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the Beginning
Stamped from
Pr is e f or Stamped from the Beginning

“An accomplished history of racist thought and practice. . . . Racism is the enduring scar on

the American consciousness. In this ambitious, magisterial book, Kendi reveals just how
deep that scar cuts and why it endures, its barely subcutaneous pain still able to flare.”
Americans like to insist that we are
— K i r k u s , starred review living in a postracial, color-blind society. In fact,
racist thought is alive and well; it has simply become
“In his ambitious, illuminating, and engaging book, Ibram X. Kendi seamlessly assembles more sophisticated and more insidious. And as

sources from Cotton Mather to Angela Davis, the Great Awakening to Black Lives Matter, award-winning historian Ibram X. Kendi argues in
the Birth of a Nation to Hip Hop culture, to show how not only race but racist ideas are Stamped from the Beginning, racist ideas in this coun-

Ibram X. Kendi at the center of American thought.” — Pa u l a J . G i d d i n g s , . A. Woodson Professor,

try have a long and lingering history, one in which

is an assistant mith ollege, and author of Ida: A Sword Among Lions,
nearly every great American thinker is complicit.

professor of African American history at the Univer- Ida B. Wells and the Campaign Against Lynching
sity of Florida and the author of the award-winning In this deeply researched and fast-moving narra-

book The Black Campus Movement: Black Students “Stamped from the Beginning is a tour de force of intellectual history that brilliantly illu- tive, Kendi chronicles the entire story of anti-Black

minates the tragic history of racist ideas from slavery to Black Lives Matter.” racist ideas and their staggering power over the
and the Racial Reconstitution of Higher Education,
— Pe n i e l J o s e ph, author of Stokely and Waiting ’til the Midnight Hour course of American history. Stamped from the Begin-
1965–1972. A frequent public speaker and writer of
commentaries, Kendi lives in Gainesville, Florida. ning uses the lives of five major American intellectu-
“Stamped from the Beginning is a history of how racist ideas are built, and how they are

als to offer a window into the contentious debates

built to last. Understanding this history is essential if we want to have any hope of prog-
ress. This book will forever change the way we think about race.”
The between assimilationists and segregationists and
Follow Ibram on Twitter @DrIbram or visit — T o u r é , author of W ho’s Afraid of Post-Blackness Def initive between racists and antiracists. From Puritan min- for more information.
“Richly sourced and engaging, Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning is a highly
History of ister Cotton Mather to Thomas Jefferson, from fiery
abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison to brilliant
Racist Ideas

accessible yet provocative study that seeks to complicate our understanding of racist ideas scholar W. E. B. Du Bois to legendary anti-prison
— Y o h u r u W i l l i a m s, professor of history and
and the forces that produce them.”
in America activist Angela Davis, Kendi shows how and why

dean of the ollege of Arts and ciences, airfield niversity
some of our leading proslavery and pro–civil rights

thinkers have challenged or helped cement racist
“Both a penetrating treatise and a wonderfully accessible work of intellectual history,

Ibram X.

Stamped from the Beginning reveals the heritage of ideas behind the modern dialectic of ideas in America.
race-denial and race-obsession. This book has done the cause of anti-racism a great service.” As Kendi provocatively illustrates, racist think-
— R u s s e l l R i c k f o r d, author of We Are an African People:
Independent Education, Black Power, and the Radical Imagination Kendi ing did not arise from ignorance or hatred. Racist
ideas were created and popularized in an effort to
defend deeply entrenched discriminatory policies
and to rationalize the nation’s racial inequities in
$32.99 /$42.99 CAN
J et des y the oo des ers
everything from wealth to health. While racist ideas
J e t r t © s h u t t e r s to
are easily produced and easily consumed, they can
Available as an e-book also be discredited. In shedding much-needed light
on the murky history of racist ideas, Stamped from
N t o B oo s
the Beginning offers us the tools we need to expose
A Member of the Perseus Books Group www.n them—and in the process, gives us reason to hope.
The Definitive History of
Racist Ideas in America

Ibram X. Kendi

New York
Copyright © 2016 by Ibram X. Kendi
Published by Nation Books, A Member of the Perseus Books Group
116 East 16th Street, 8th Floor
New York, NY 10003

Nation Books is a co-publishing venture of the Nation Institute and the Per-
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Designed by Jack Lenzo

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Kendi, Ibram X., author.
Title: Stamped from the beginning : the definitive history of racist ideas in
America / Ibram X. Kendi.
Description: New York : Nation Books, 2016. | Includes bibliographical
references and index.
Identifiers: LCCN 2015033671| ISBN 9781568584638 (hardcover : alk.
paper) |
ISBN 9781568584645 (ebook : alk. paper)
Subjects: LCSH: Racism—United States—History. | United States—Race
Classification: LCC E185.61 .K358 2016 | DDC 305.800973—dc23
LC record available at

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
To the lives they said don’t matter
Prologue 1

1. Human Hierarchy 15

2. Origins of Racist Ideas 22

3. Coming to America 31

4. Saving Souls, Not Bodies 47

5. Black Hunts 58

6. Great Awakening 66


7. Enlightenment 79

8. Black Exhibits 92

9. Created Equal 104

10. Uplift Suasion 120

11. Big Bottoms 135

12. Colonization 143


13. Gradual Equality 161

14. Imbruted or Civilized 177

15. Soul 191

16. The Impending Crisis 202

17. History’s Emancipator 214

18. Ready for Freedom? 223

19. Reconstructing Slavery 235

20. Reconstructing Blame 248

viii Contents


21. Renewing the South 263

22. Southern Horrors 269

23. Black Judases 280

24. Great White Hopes 295

25. The Birth of a Nation 308

26. Media Suasion 323

27. Old Deal 335

28. Freedom Brand 349

29. Massive Resistance 365


30. The Act of Civil Rights 381

31. Black Power 393

32. Law and Order 410

33. Reagan’s Drugs 424

34. New Democrats 440

35. New Republicans 456

36. 99.9 Percent the Same 469

37. The Extraordinary Negro 482

Epilogue 497
Acknowledgments 513
Notes 516
Index 562
Prolog ue
EVERY HISTORIAN WRITES IN —and is impacted by—a precise historical
moment. My moment, this book’s moment, coincides with the tele-
vised and untelevised killings of unarmed human beings at the hands
of law enforcement officials, and with the televised and untelevised life
of the shooting star of #Black Lives Matter during America’s stormi-
est nights. I somehow managed to write this book between the heart-
breaks of Trayvon Martin and Rekia Boyd and Michael Brown and
Freddie Gray and the Charleston 9 and Sandra Bland, heartbreaks that
are a product of America’s history of racist ideas as much as this his-
tory book of racist ideas is a product of these heartbreaks.
Young Black males were twenty-one times more likely to be killed by
police than their White counterparts between 2010 and 2012, accord-
ing to federal statistics. The under-recorded, under-analyzed racial
disparities between female victims of lethal police force may be even
greater. Federal data show that the median wealth of White households
is a staggering thirteen times the median wealth of Black households—and
Black people are five times more likely to be incarcerated than Whites.1
But these statistics should come as no surprise. Most Ameri-
cans are probably aware of these racial disparities in police killings,
in wealth, in prisons—in nearly every sector of US society. By racial
disparities, I mean how racial groups are not statistically represented
according to their populations. If Black people make up 13.2 percent
of the US population, then Black people should make up somewhere
close to 13 percent of the Americans killed by the police, somewhere
close to 13 percent of the Americans sitting in prisons, somewhere

2 tamped from the Beginning
close to owning 13 percent of US wealth. But today, the United States
remains nowhere close to racial parity. African Americans own 2.7
percent of the nation’s wealth, and make up 40 percent of the incarcer-
ated population. These are racial disparities, and racial disparities are
older than the life of the United States.2
In 2016, the United States is celebrating its 240th birthday. But
even before Thomas Jefferson and the other founders declared inde-
pendence, Americans were engaging in a polarizing debate over racial
disparities, over why they exist and persist, and over why White
Americans as a group were prospering more than Black Americans
as a group. Historically, there have been three sides to this heated
argument. A group we can call segregationists has blamed Black people
themselves for the racial disparities. A group we can call antiracists has
pointed to racial discrimination. A group we can call assimilationists has
tried to argue for both, saying that Black people and racial discrimina-
tion were to blame for racial disparities. During the ongoing debate
over police killings, these three sides to the argument have been on
full display. Segregationists have been blaming the recklessly crimi-
nal behavior of the Black people who were killed by police officers.
Michael Brown was a monstrous, threatening thief; therefore Darren
Wilson had reason to fear him and to kill him. Antiracists have been
blaming the recklessly racist behavior of the police. The life of this
dark-skinned eighteen-year-old did not matter to Darren Wilson.
Assimilationists have tried to have it both ways. Both Wilson and Brown
acted like irresponsible criminals.
Listening to this three-way argument in recent years has been
like listening to the three distinct arguments you will hear through-
out Stamped from the Beginning. For nearly six centuries, antiracist ideas
have been pitted against two kinds of racist ideas: segregationist and
assimilationist. The history of racist ideas that follows is the history of
these three distinct voices—segregationists, assimilationists, and anti-
racists—and how they each have rationalized racial disparities, argu-
ing why Whites have remained on the living and winning end, while
Blacks remained on the losing and dying end.
rologue 3

THE TITLE STAMPED FROM THE BEGINNING comes from a speech that Mis-
sissippi senator Jefferson Davis gave on the floor of the US Senate on
April 12, 1860. This future president of the Confederacy objected
to a bill funding Black education in Washington, DC. “This Govern-
ment was not founded by negroes nor for negroes,” but “by white men
for white men,” Davis lectured his colleagues. The bill was based on
the false notion of racial equality, he declared. The “inequality of the
white and black races” was “stamped from the beginning.”3
It may not be surprising that Jefferson Davis regarded Black people
as biologically distinct and inferior to White people—and Black skin
as an ugly stamp on the beautiful White canvas of normal human
skin—and this Black stamp as a signifier of the Negro’s everlasting
inferiority. This kind of segregationist thinking is perhaps easier to
identify—and easier to condemn—as obviously racist. And yet so
many prominent Americans, many of whom we celebrate for their pro-
gressive ideas and activism, many of whom had very good intentions,
subscribed to assimilationist thinking that also served up racist beliefs
about Black inferiority. We have remembered assimilationists’ glori-
ous struggle against racial discrimination, and tucked away their inglo-
rious partial blaming of inferior Black behavior for racial disparities.
In embracing biological racial equality, assimilationists point to envi-
ronment—hot climates, discrimination, culture, and poverty—as the
creators of inferior Black behaviors. For solutions, they maintain that
the ugly Black stamp can be erased—that inferior Black behaviors can
be developed, given the proper environment. As such, assimilationists
constantly encourage Black adoption of White cultural traits and/or
physical ideals. In his landmark 1944 study of race relations, a study
widely regarded as one of the instigators of the civil rights movement,
Swedish economist and Nobel Laureate Gunnar Myrdal wrote, “It is
to the advantage of American Negroes as individuals and as a group
to become assimilated into American culture, to acquire the traits held
in esteem by the dominant white Americans.” He had also claimed, in
An American Dilemma, that “in practically all its divergences, American
Negro culture is . . . a distorted development, or a pathological condi-
tion, of the general American culture.”4
4 tamped from the Beginning
But there is, and has always been, a persistent line of antiracist
thought in this country, challenging those assimilationist and segre-
gationist lines, and giving the line of truth hope. Antiracists have long
argued that racial discrimination was stamped from the beginning of
America, which explains why racial disparities have existed and per-
sisted. Unlike segregationists and assimilationists, antiracists have rec-
ognized that the different skin colors, hair textures, behaviors, and
cultural ways of Blacks and Whites are on the same level, are equal in
all their divergences. As the legendary Black lesbian poet Audre Lorde
lectured in 1980: “We have no patterns for relating across our human
differences as equals.”5

THERE WAS NOTHING simple or straightforward or predictable about

racist ideas, and thus their history. Frankly speaking, for generations
of Americans, racist ideas have been their common sense. The simple
logic of racist ideas has manipulated millions over the years, muffling
the more complex antiracist reality again and again. And so, this his-
tory could not be made for readers in an easy-to-predict narrative of
absurd racists clashing with reasonable antiracists. This history could
not be made for readers in an easy-to-predict, two-sided Hollywood
battle of obvious good versus obvious evil, with good triumphing in
the end. From the beginning, it has been a three-sided battle, a bat-
tle of antiracist ideas being pitted against two kinds of racist ideas at
the same time, with evil and good failing and triumphing in the end.
Both segregationist and assimilationist ideas have been wrapped up
in attractive arguments to seem good, and both have made sure to
re-wrap antiracist ideas as evil. And in wrapping their ideas in good-
ness, segregationists and assimilationists have rarely confessed to their
racist public policies and ideas. But why would they? Racists con-
fessing to their crimes is not in their self-interest. It has been smarter
and more exonerating to identify what they did and said as not rac-
ist. Criminals hardly ever acknowledge their crimes against human-
ity. And the shrewdest and most powerful anti-Black criminals have
legalized their criminal activities, have managed to define their crimes
rologue 5

of slave trading and enslaving and discriminating and killing outside
of the criminal code. Likewise, the shrewdest and most powerful rac-
ist ideologues have managed to define their ideas outside of racism.
Actually, assimilationists first used and defined and popularized the
term “racism” during the 1940s. All the while, they refused to define
their own assimilationist ideas of Black behavioral inferiority as racist.
These assimilationists defined only segregationist ideas of Black biolog-
ical inferiority as racist. And segregationists, too, have always resisted
the label of “racist.” They have claimed instead that they were merely
articulating God’s word, nature’s design, science’s plan, or plain old
common sense.6
All these self-serving efforts by powerful factions to define their
racist rhetoric as nonracist has left Americans thoroughly divided over,
and ignorant of, what racist ideas truly are. It has all allowed Americans
who think something is wrong with Black people to believe, somehow,
that they are not racists. But to say something is wrong with a group is
to say something is inferior about that group. These sayings are inter-
locked logically whether Americans realize it or not, whether Ameri-
cans are willing to admit it or not. Any comprehensive history of racist
ideas must grapple with the ongoing manipulation and confusion, must
set the record straight on those who are espousing racist ideas and
those who are not. My definition of a racist idea is a simple one: it is
any concept that regards one racial group as inferior or superior to
another racial group in any way. I define anti-Black racist ideas—the
subject of this book—as any idea suggesting that Black people, or any
group of Black people, are inferior in any way to another racial group.
Like the other identifiable races, Black people are in reality a col-
lection of groups differentiated by gender, class, ethnicity, sexuality,
culture, skin color, profession, and nationality—among a series of other
identifiers, including biracial people who may or may not identify as
Black. Each and every identifiable Black group has been subjected to
what critical race theorist Kimberlé Crenshaw has called “intersection-
ality”—prejudice stemming from the intersections of racist ideas and
other forms of bigotry, such as sexism, classism, ethnocentrism, and
homophobia. For example, sexist notions of real women as weak, and
6 tamped from the Beginning
racist notions of Black women as not really women, have intersected
to produce the gender racism of the strong Black woman, inferior to the
pinnacle of womanhood, the weak White woman. In other words, to
call women as a group stupid is sexism. To call Black people as a group
stupid is racism. To call Black women as a group stupid is gender rac-
ism. Such intersections have also led to articulations of class racism
(demeaning the Black poor and Black elites), queer racism (demeaning
Black lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender people), and ethnic rac-
ism (concocting a hierarchy of Black ethnic groups), to name a few.
Sweeping histories of racist ideas have traditionally focused on racism
toward Black people in general, neglecting intersecting conceptions of
specific Black groups—or even of Black spaces, such as Black neigh-
borhoods, Black schools, Black businesses, and Black churches. Stamped
from the Beginning focuses its narration on both—on the general as well
as specific forms of assimilationist and segregationist ideas.7

STAMPED FROM THE BEGINNING narrates the entire history of racist ideas,
from their origins in fifteenth-century Europe, through colonial times
when the early British settlers carried racist ideas to America, all the
way to the twenty-first century and current debates about the events
taking place on our streets. Five main characters, in particular, will serve
as our tour guides as we explore the landscape of racial ideas through
five periods in American history. During America’s first century, racist
theological ideas were absolutely critical to sanctioning the growth of
American slavery and making it acceptable to the Christian churches.
These ideas were featured in the sermons of early America’s greatest
preacher and intellectual, Boston divine Cotton Mather (1663–1728),
our first tour guide. Cotton Mather was the namesake and grandson of
two of New England’s intellectual trailblazers, John Cotton and Rich-
ard Mather, Puritan preachers who helped carry two-hundred-year-old
racist ideas from Europe across the Atlantic Ocean. To substantiate
American slavery and win converts, Cotton Mather preached racial
inequality in body while insisting that the dark souls of enslaved Afri-
cans would become White when they became Christians. His writings
rologue 7

and sermons were widely read in the colonies and in Europe, where
the progenitors of the scientific revolution—and then the Enlight-
enment—were racializing and whitening Europeans, freedom, civili-
zation, rationality, and beauty. During the American Revolution and
thereafter, years that saw the stunning growth of American slavery,
politicians and secular intellectuals alike joined slavery’s justifying fray.
These justifiers included one of the most powerful politicians and sec-
ular intellectuals of the new United States—our second tour guide, the
antislavery, anti-abolitionist Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826).
Jefferson died on the eve of the nineteenth century’s movement for
emancipation and civil rights, a movement partially spearheaded by the
pulsating editor of The Liberator, William Lloyd Garrison (1805–1879),
tour guide number three. Like his peers, Garrison’s most instrumen-
tally passionate antislavery ideas drawing Americans to the cause of
abolition and civil rights were usually not antiracist ideas. He popular-
ized the assimilationist idea that slavery—or racial discrimination more
broadly—had “imbruted” Black people; this oppression had made their
cultures, psychologies, and behaviors inferior. It is one antiracist thing
to say discriminators treated Black people like they were barbarians.
It is yet another racist thing to say the discrimination actually trans-
formed Black people into barbarians. The nation’s first great profes-
sionally trained Black scholar, W. E. B. Du Bois (1868–1963), our fourth
tour guide, initially adopted Garrison’s racist idea. But he also stood
at the forefront of antiracist ideas, challenging Jim Crow’s rise in the
late nineteenth century. Over the course of his long and storied career
into the twentieth century, Du Bois’s double-consciousness of racist and
antiracist ideas amazingly transfigured into a single consciousness of
antiracism. In the process, however, his influence waned. In the 1950s
and 1960s, racist arguments once again became the most influential
ideas drawing Americans to the cause of civil rights. Later, civil rights
and Black power advances—and the sensationalized “crises” of Black
single-parent households, welfare “queens,” affirmative action, and
violent rebels and criminals—all fed a ravishing racist backlash to the
racial progress of the 1960s, including the judicial persecution of anti-
racist activists, most famously a young philosopher from the University
8 tamped from the Beginning
of California at Los Angeles. Exonerated of all capital charges in 1972,
Angela Davis (1943–present) spent the next four decades opposing
the racial discriminators who learned to hide their intent, denouncing
those who promoted end-of-racism fairytales while advocating biparti-
san tough-on-crime policies and a prison-industrial complex that engi-
neered the mass incarceration, beatings, and killings of Black people by
law enforcement. She will be our fifth and final tour guide.
These five main characters—Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson,
William Lloyd Garrison, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Angela Davis—were
arguably the most consistently prominent or provocative racial the-
orists of their respective lifetimes, writing and speaking and teaching
racial (and nonracial) ideas that were as fascinating as they were orig-
inal, influential, and/or contradictory. But Stamped from the Beginning is
not a set of five biographies of these people. Their complex lives and
influential ideas have sat at the apex of debates between assimilation-
ists and segregationists, or between racists and antiracists, and thus
provide a window to those debates, to this intricately woven history.

STAMPED FROM THE BEGINNING is not merely a history of overt racism

becoming covert; nor is it a history of racial progress, or a history of
ignorance and hate. Stamped from the Beginning rewrites the history of rac-
ist ideas by exposing the incompleteness of these three widely believed
historical storylines. Racist intentions—not policies—became covert
after the 1960s. Old and new racist policies remained as overt as ever,
and we can see the effects of these policies whenever we see racial dis-
parities in everything from wealth to health in the twenty-first century.
That’s not to say that antiracist reformers have not made progress in
exposing and burying racist policies over the years. But racist reform-
ers have made progress, too. The outlawing of chattel slavery in 1865
brought on racial progress. Then, the legalization of Jim Crow brought
on the progression of racist policies in the late nineteenth century. The
outlawing of Jim Crow in 1964 brought on racial progress. Then, the
legalization of superficially unintentional discrimination brought on the
progression of racist policies in the late twentieth century.
rologue 9

In order to fully explain the complex history of racist ideas, Stamped
from the Beginning must chronicle this racial progress and the simultaneous
progression of racist policies. Hate and ignorance have not driven the
history of racist ideas in America. Racist policies have driven the his-
tory of racist ideas in America. And this fact becomes apparent when
we examine the causes behind, not the consumption of racist ideas, but
the production of racist ideas. What caused US senator John C. Cal-
houn of South Carolina in 1837 to produce the racist idea of slavery as a
“positive good,” when he knew slavery’s torturous horrors? What caused
Atlanta newspaper editor Henry W. Grady in 1885 to produce the racist
idea of “separate but equal,” when he knew southern communities were
hardly separate or equal? What caused think tankers after the presiden-
tial election of Barack Obama in 2008 to produce the racist idea of a
postracial society, when they knew all those studies had documented
discrimination? Time and again, racist ideas have not been cooked up
from the boiling pot of ignorance and hate. Time and again, powerful
and brilliant men and women have produced racist ideas in order to jus-
tify the racist policies of their era, in order to redirect the blame for their
era’s racial disparities away from those policies and onto Black people.
I was taught the popular folktale of racism: that ignorant and
hateful people had produced racist ideas, and that these racist people
had instituted racist policies. But when I learned the motives behind
the production of many of America’s most influentially racist ideas,
it became quite obvious that this folktale, though sensible, was not
based on a firm footing of historical evidence. Ignorance/hate racist
ideas discrimination: this causal relationship is largely ahistorical. It
has actually been the inverse relationship—racial discrimination led
to racist ideas which led to ignorance and hate. Racial discrimination
racist ideas ignorance/hate: this is the causal relationship driving
America’s history of race relations.
Their own racist ideas usually did not dictate the decisions of the
most powerful Americans when they instituted, defended, and toler-
ated discriminatory policies that affected millions of Black lives over
the course of American history. Racially discriminatory policies have
usually sprung from economic, political, and cultural self-interests,
10 tamped from the Beginning
self-interests that are constantly changing. Politicians seeking higher
office have primarily created and defended discriminatory policies
out of political self-interest—not racist ideas. Capitalists seeking to
increase profit margins have primarily created and defended discrimi-
natory policies out of economic self-interest—not racist ideas. Cultural
professionals, including theologians, artists, scholars, and journalists,
were seeking to advance their careers or cultures and have primar-
ily created and defended discriminatory policies out of professional
self-interest—not racist ideas.
When we look back on our history, we often wonder why so many
Americans did not resist slave trading, enslaving, segregating, or now,
mass incarcerating. The reason is, again, racist ideas. The principal
function of racist ideas in American history has been the suppression
of resistance to racial discrimination and its resulting racial disparities.
The beneficiaries of slavery, segregation, and mass incarceration have
produced racist ideas of Black people being best suited for or deserv-
ing of the confines of slavery, segregation, or the jail cell. Consumers
of these racist ideas have been led to believe there is something wrong
with Black people, and not the policies that have enslaved, oppressed,
and confined so many Black people.
Racist ideas have done their job on us. We have a hard time rec-
ognizing that racial discrimination is the sole cause of racial disparities
in this country and in the world at large. I write we for a reason. When
I began this book, with a heavy heart for Trayvon Martin and Rekia
Boyd, I must confess that I held quite a few racist ideas. Even though
I am an Africana studies historian and have been tutored all my life
in egalitarian spaces, I held racist notions of Black inferiority before
researching and writing this book. Racist ideas are ideas. Anyone can
produce them or consume them, as Stamped from the Beginning’s interracial
cast of producers and consumers show. Anyone—Whites, Latina/os,
Blacks, Asians, Native Americans—anyone can express the idea that
Black people are inferior, that something is wrong with Black people.
Anyone can believe both racist and antiracist ideas, that certain things
are wrong with Black people and other things are equal. Fooled by
racist ideas, I did not fully realize that the only thing wrong with Black
rologue 11

people is that we think something is wrong with Black people. I did
not fully realize that the only thing extraordinary about White people
is that they think something is extraordinary about White people.
I am not saying all individuals who happen to identify as Black (or
White or Latina/o or Asian or Native American) are equal in all ways.
I am saying that there is nothing wrong with Black people as a group, or
with any other racial group. That is what it truly means to think as an
antiracist: to think there is nothing wrong with Black people, to think
that racial groups are equal. There are lazy and unwise and harmful
individuals of African ancestry. There are lazy and unwise and harm-
ful individuals of European ancestry. There are industrious and wise
and harmless individuals of European ancestry. There are industrious
and wise and harmless individuals of African ancestry. But no racial
group has ever had a monopoly on any type of human trait or gene—
not now, not ever. Under our different-looking hair and skin, doctors
cannot tell the difference between our bodies, our brains, or the blood
that runs in our veins. All cultures, in all their behavioral differences,
are on the same level. Black Americans’ history of oppression has made
Black opportunities—not Black people—inferior.
When you truly believe that the racial groups are equal, then you
also believe that racial disparities must be the result of racial discrimi-
nation. Committed to this antiracist idea of group equality, I was able
to self-critique, discover, and shed the racist ideas I had consumed
over my lifetime while I uncovered and exposed the racist ideas that
others have produced over the lifetime of America. I know that read-
ers truly committed to racial equality will join me on this journey of
interrogating and shedding our racist ideas. But if there is anything I
have learned during my research, it’s that the principal producers and
defenders of racist ideas will not join us. And no logic or fact or his-
tory book can change them, because logic and facts and scholarship
have little to do with why they are expressing racist ideas in the first
place. Stamped from the Beginning is about these closed-minded, cunning,
captivating producers of racist ideas. But it is not for them.
My open mind was liberated in writing this story. I am hoping that
other open minds can be liberated in reading this story.

Cotton Mather

Human Hierarchy
THEY WEATHERED BRUTAL WINTERS, suffered diseases, and learned to cope
with the resisting Native Americans. But nothing brought more destruc-
tion to Puritan settlements than the Great Hurricane of 1635. On
August 16, 1635, the hurricane—today judged to be perhaps Category
3—thundered up the Atlantic Coast, brushing Jamestown and passing
over eastern Long Island. The storm’s eye glanced at Providence to the
east and moved inland, snatching up thousands of trees like weeds. In
the seven-year-old Massachusetts Bay Colony, the hurricane smashed
down English homes as if they were ants, before reaching the Atlantic
Ocean and swinging knockout waves onto the New England shores.
Large ships from England transporting settlers and supplies were
sitting ducks. Seamen anchored one ship, the James, off the coast of
New Hampshire to wait out the hurricane. Suddenly, a powerful
wave sliced the ship’s anchors and cables like an invisible knife. Sea-
men slashed the third cable in distress and hoisted sail to cruise back
out to a safer sea. The winds smashed the new sail into “rotten rags,”
recorded notable Puritan minister Richard Mather in his diary. As the
rags disappeared into the ocean, so did hope.
Abducted now by the hurricane, the ship headed toward a mighty
rock. All seemed lost. Richard Mather and fellow passengers cried out
to the Lord for deliverance. Using “his own immediate good hand,”
God guided the ship around the mighty rock, Mather later testified.
The sea calmed. The crew hurriedly rigged the ship with new sails.
The Lord blew “a fresh gale of wind,” allowing the captain to navigate

16 tamped from the Beginning
away from danger. The battered James arrived in Boston on August
17, 1635. All one hundred passengers credited God for their survival.
Richard Mather took the deliverance as a charge “to walk uprightly
before him as long as we live.”1
As a Puritan minister, Richard Mather had walked uprightly
through fifteen years of British persecution before embarking on the
perilous journey across the Atlantic to begin life anew in New England.
There, he would be reunited with his illustrious ministerial friend John
Cotton, who had faced British persecution for twenty years in Boston,
England. In 1630, Cotton had given the farewell sermon to hundreds
of Puritan founders of New England communities, blessing their ful-
fillment of God’s prophetic vision. As dissenters from the Church of
England, Puritans believed themselves to be God’s chosen piece of
humanity, a special, superior people, and New England, their Israel,
was to be their exceptional land.2
Within a week of the Great Hurricane, Richard Mather was
installed as pastor of Dorchester’s North Church near the renowned
North Church of the new Boston, which was pastored by John Cot-
ton. Mather and Cotton then embarked on a sacred mission to create,
articulate, and defend the New England Way. They used their pens as
much as their pulpits, and they used their power as much as their pens
and pulpits. They penned the colonies’ first adult and children’s books
as part of this endeavor. Mather, in all likelihood, steered the selection
of Henry Dunster to lead colonial America’s first college, Harvard’s
forerunner, in 1640. And Cotton did not mind when Dunster fash-
ioned Harvard’s curriculum after their alma mater, Cambridge, setting
off an ideological trend. Like the founders of Cambridge and Harvard
before them, the founders of William & Mary (1693), Yale (1701), the
University of Pennsylvania (1740), Princeton (1746), Columbia (1754),
Brown (1764), Rutgers (1766), and Dartmouth (1769)—the other eight
colonial colleges—regarded ancient Greek and Latin literature as uni-
versal truths worthy of memorization and unworthy of critique. At the
center of the Old and New England Greek library hailed the resur-
rected Aristotle, who had come under suspicion as a threat to doctrine
among some factions in Christianity during the medieval period.3
uman ierar hy 17

In studying Aristotle’s philosophy, Puritans learned rationales for
human hierarchy, and they began to believe that some groups were
superior to other groups. In Aristotle’s case, ancient Greeks were supe-
rior to all non-Greeks. But Puritans believed they were superior to
Native Americans, the African people, and even Anglicans—that is,
all non-Puritans. Aristotle, who lived from 384 to 322 BCE, concocted
a climate theory to justify Greek superiority, saying that extreme hot
or cold climates produced intellectually, physically, and morally infe-
rior people who were ugly and lacked the capacity for freedom and
self-government. Aristotle labeled Africans “burnt faces”—the original
meaning in Greek of “Ethiopian”—and viewed the “ugly” extremes of
pale or dark skins as the effect of the extreme cold or hot climates. All
of this was in the interest of normalizing Greek slaveholding practices
and Greece’s rule over the western Mediterranean. Aristotle situated
the Greeks, in their supreme, intermediate climate, as the most beau-
tifully endowed superior rulers and enslavers of the world. “Humanity
is divided into two: the masters and the slaves; or, if one prefers it, the
Greeks and the Barbarians, those who have the right to command;
and those who are born to obey,” Aristotle said. For him, the enslaved
peoples were “by nature incapable of reasoning and live a life of pure
sensation, like certain tribes on the borders of the civilized world, or
like people who are diseased through the onset of illnesses like epi-
lepsy or madness.”4
By the birth of Christ or the start of the Common Era, Romans were
justifying their slaveholding practices using Aristotle’s climate theory,
and soon the new Christianity began to contribute to these arguments.
For early Christian theologians—whom Puritans studied alongside
Aristotle—God ordained the human hierarchy. St. Paul introduced, in
the first century, a three-tiered hierarchy of slave relations—heavenly
master (top), earthly master (middle), enslaved (bottom). “He who was
free when called is a slave of Christ,” he testified in 1 Corinthians.
“Slaves” were to “obey in everything those that are your earthly mas-
ters, not with eyeservice as men-pleasers, but in singleness of heart,
fearing the Lord.” In a crucial caveat in Galatians 3:28, St. Paul equal-
ized the souls of masters and slaves as “all one in Christ Jesus.”
18 tamped from the Beginning
All in all, ethnic and religious and color prejudice existed in the
ancient world. Constructions of races—White Europe, Black Africa,
for instance—did not, and therefore racist ideas did not. But cru-
cially, the foundations of race and racist ideas were laid. And so were
the foundations for egalitarianism, antiracism, and antislavery laid
in Greco-Roman antiquity. “The deity gave liberty to all men, and
nature created no one a slave,” wrote Alkidamas, Aristotle’s rival in
Athens. When Herodotus, the foremost historian of ancient Greece,
traveled up the Nile River, he found the Nubians “the most handsome
of peoples.” Lactantius, an adviser to Constantine I, the first Christian
Roman emperor, announced early in the fourth century: “God who
creates and inspires men wished them all to be fair, that is, equal.” St.
Augustine, an African church father in the fourth and fifth centuries,
maintained that “whoever is born anywhere as a human being, that is,
as a rational mortal creature, however strange he may appear to our
senses in bodily form or colour or motion or utterance, or in any fac-
ulty, part or quality of his nature whatsoever, let no true believer have
any doubt that such an individual is descended from the one man who
was first created.” However, these antislavery and egalitarian champi-
ons did not accompany Aristotle and St. Paul into the modern era, into
the new Harvard curriculum, or into the New England mind seeking
to justify slavery and the racial hierarchy it produced.5
When John Cotton drafted New England’s first constitution in
1636, Moses his judicials, he legalized the enslavement of captives taken
in just wars as well as “such strangers as willingly selle themselves or
are sold to us.” The New England way imitated the Old England way
on slavery. Cotton reproduced the policies of his British peers close
and far away. In 1636, Barbados officials announced that “Negroes and
Indians that come here to be sold, should serve for Life, unless a Con-
tract was before made to the contrary.”6
The Pequot War, the first major war between the New England
colonists and the area’s indigenous peoples, erupted in 1637. Captain
William Pierce forced some indigenous war captives onto the Desire,
the first slaver to leave British North America. The ship sailed to the
Isla de Providencia off Nicaragua, where “Negroes” were reportedly
uman ierar hy 19

“being . . . kept as perpetuall servants.” Massachusetts governor John
Winthrop recorded Captain Pierce’s historic arrival back into Boston
in 1638, noting that his ship was hauling “salt, cotton, tobacco and
Negroes.” 7
The first generation of Puritans began rationalizing the enslave-
ment of these “Negroes” without skipping a Christian beat. Their
chilling nightmares of persecution were not the only hallucinations
the Puritans had carried over the Atlantic waters in their minds to
America. From the first ships that landed in Virginia in 1607, to the
ships that survived the Great Hurricane of 1635, to the first slave
ships, some British settlers of colonial America carried across the sea
Puritan, biblical, scientific, and Aristotelian rationalizations of slavery
and human hierarchy. From Western Europe and the new settlements
in Latin America, some Puritans carried across their judgment of the
many African peoples as one inferior people. They carried across rac-
ist ideas—racist ideas that preceded American slavery, because the
need to justify African slavery preceded colonial America.

AFTER ARAB MUSLIMS conquered parts of North Africa, Portugal, and

Spain during the seventh century, Christians and Muslims battled for
centuries over the prize of Mediterranean supremacy. Meanwhile,
below the Sahara Desert, the West African empires of Ghana (700–
1200), Mali (1200–1500), and Songhay (1350–1600) were situated at
the crossroads of the lucrative trade routes for gold and salt. A robust
trans-Saharan trade emerged, allowing Europeans to obtain West Afri-
can goods through Muslim intermediaries.
Ghana, Mali, and Songhay developed empires that could rival
in size, power, scholarship, and wealth any in the world. Intellectu-
als at universities in Timbuktu and Jenne pumped out scholarship and
pumped in students from around West Africa. Songhay grew to be the
largest. Mali may have been the most illustrious. The world’s great-
est globe-trotter of the fourteenth century, who trotted from North
Africa to Eastern Europe to Eastern Asia, decided to see Mali for him-
self in 1352. “There is complete security in their country,” Moroccan
20 tamped from the Beginning
Ibn Battuta marveled in his travel notes. “Neither traveler nor inhabi-
tant in it has anything to fear from robbers or men of violence.”8
Ibn Battuta was an oddity—an abhorred oddity—among the
Islamic intelligentsia in Fez, Morocco. Hardly any scholars had trav-
eled far from home, and Battuta’s travel accounts threatened their
own armchair credibility in depicting foreigners. None of Battuta’s
antagonists was more influential than the intellectual tower of the
Muslim world at that time, Tunisian Ibn Khaldun, who arrived in Fez
just as Battuta returned from Mali. “People in the dynasty (in official
positions) whispered to each other that he must be a liar,” Khaldun
revealed in 1377 in The Muqaddimah, the foremost Islamic history of
the premodern world. Khaldun then painted a very different picture
of sub-Sahara Africa in The Muqaddimah: “The Negro nations are, as
a rule, submissive to slavery,” Khaldun surmised, “because (Negroes)
have little that is (essentially) human and possess attributes that are
quite similar to those of dumb animals.” And the “same applies to the
Slavs,” argued this disciple of Aristotle. Following Greek and Roman
justifiers, Khaldun used climate theory to justify Islamic enslavement
of sub-Saharan Africans and Eastern European Slavs—groups shar-
ing only one obvious characteristic: their remoteness. “All their con-
ditions are remote from those of human beings and close to those of
wild animals,” Khaldun suggested. Their inferior conditions were nei-
ther permanent nor hereditary, however. “Negroes” who migrated to
the cooler north were “found to produce descendants whose colour
gradually turns white,” Khaldun stressed. Dark-skinned people had
the capacity for physical assimilation in a colder climate. Later, cultural
assimilationists would imagine that culturally inferior African people,
placed in the proper European cultural environment, could or should
adopt European culture. But first physical assimilationists like Khaldun
imagined that physically inferior African people, placed in the proper
cold environment, could or should adopt European physicality: white
skin and straight hair.9
Ibn Khaldun did not intend merely to demean African people
as inferior. He intended to belittle all the different-looking African
and Slavic peoples whom the Muslims were trading as slaves. Even
uman ierar hy 21

so, he reinforced the conceptual foundation for racist ideas. On the
eve of the fifteenth century, Khaldun helped bolster the foundation
for assimilationist ideas, for racist notions of the environment produc-
ing African inferiority. All an enslaver had to do was to stop justify-
ing Slavic slavery and inferiority using climate theory, and focus the
theory on African people, for the racist attitude toward dark-skinned
people to be complete.
There was one enslavement theory focused on Black people
already circulating, a theory somehow derived from Genesis 9:18–29,
which said “that Negroes were the children of Ham, the son of Noah,
and that they were singled out to be black as the result of Noah’s
curse, which produced Ham’s colour and the slavery God inflicted
upon his descendants,” as Khaldun explained. The lineage of this curse
of Ham theory curves back through the great Persian scholar Tabari
(838–923) all the way to Islamic and Hebrew sources. God had per-
manently cursed ugly Blackness and slavery into the very nature of
African people, curse theorists maintained. As strictly a climate theo-
rist, Khaldun discarded the “silly story” of the curse of Ham.10
Although it clearly supposed Black inferiority, the curse theory
was like an unelected politician during the medieval period. Muslim
and Christian enslavers hardly gave credence to the curse theory: they
enslaved too many non-Black descendants of Shem and Japheth, Ham’s
supposed non-cursed brothers, for that. But the medieval curse theo-
rists laid the foundation for segregationist ideas and for racist notions
of Black genetic inferiority. The shift to solely enslaving Black people,
and justifying it using the curse of Ham, was in the offing. Once that
shift occurred, the disempowered curse theory became empowered,
and racist ideas truly came into being.11

Origins of Racist Ideas

RICHARD MATHER AND John Cotton inherited from the English thinkers
of their generation the old racist ideas that African slavery was natu-
ral and normal and holy. These racist ideas were nearly two centuries
old when Puritans used them in the 1630s to legalize and codify New
England slavery—and Virginians had done the same in the 1620s.
Back in 1415, Prince Henry and his brothers had convinced their
father, King John of Portugal, to capture the principal Muslim trading
depot in the western Mediterranean: Ceuta, on the northeastern tip
of Morocco. These brothers were envious of Muslim riches, and they
sought to eliminate the Islamic middleman so that they could find the
southern source of gold and Black captives.
After the battle, Moorish prisoners left Prince Henry spellbound
as they detailed trans-Saharan trade routes down into the disintegrat-
ing Mali Empire. Since Muslims still controlled these desert routes,
Prince Henry decided to “seek the lands by the way of the sea.” He
sought out those African lands until his death in 1460, using his posi-
tion as the Grand Master of Portugal’s wealthy Military Order of
Christ (successor of the Knights Templar) to draw venture capital and
loyal men for his African expeditions.
In 1452, Prince Henry’s nephew, King Afonso V, commissioned
Gomes Eanes de Zurara to write a biography of the life and slave-
trading work of his “beloved uncle.” Zurara was a learned and obedient
commander in Prince Henry’s Military Order of Christ. In record-
ing and celebrating Prince Henry’s life, Zurara was also implicitly

rigins of a ist deas 23

obscuring his Grand Master’s monetary decision to exclusively trade
in African slaves. In 1453, Zurara finished the inaugural defense of
African slave-trading, the first European book on Africans in the mod-
ern era. The Chronicle of the Discovery and Conquest of Guinea begins the
recorded history of anti-Black racist ideas. Zurara’s inaugural racist
ideas, in other words, were a product of, not a producer of, Prince
Henry’s racist policies concerning African slave-trading.1
The Portuguese made history as the first Europeans to sail along the
Atlantic beyond the Western Sahara’s Cape Bojador in order to bring
enslaved Africans back to Europe, as Zurara shared in his book. The six
caravels, carrying 240 captives, arrived in Lagos, Portugal, on August
6, 1444. Prince Henry made the slave auction into a spectacle to show
the Portuguese had joined the European league of serious slave-traders
of African people. For some time, the Genoese of Italy, the Catalans
of northern Spain, and the Valencians of eastern Spain had been raid-
ing the Canary Islands or purchasing African slaves from Moroccan
traders. Zurara distinguished the Portuguese by framing their African
slave-trading ventures as missionary expeditions. Prince Henry’s com-
petitors could not play that mind game as effectively as he did, in all
likelihood because they still traded so many Eastern Europeans.2
But the market was changing. Around the time the Portuguese
opened their sea route to a new slave export area, the old slave export
area started to close up. In Ibn Khaldun’s day, most of the captives sold
in Western Europe were Eastern Europeans who had been seized by
Turkish raiders from areas around the Black Sea. So many of the seized
captives were “Slavs” that the ethnic term became the root word for
“slave” in most Western European languages. By the mid-1400s, Slavic
communities had built forts against slave raiders, causing the supply of
Slavs in Western Europe’s slave market to plunge at around the same
time that the supply of Africans was increasing. As a result, Western
Europeans began to see the natural Slav(e) not as White, but Black.3

THE CAPTIVES IN 1444 disembarked from the ship and marched to an open
space outside of the city, according to Zurara’s chronicle. Prince Henry
24 tamped from the Beginning
oversaw the slave auction, mounted on horseback, beaming in delight.
Some of the captives were “white enough, fair to look upon, and well
proportioned,” while others were “like mulattoes,” Zurara reported. Still
others were “as black as Ethiops, and so ugly” that they almost appeared
as visitors from Hell. The captives included people in the many shades
of the Tuareg Moors as well as the dark-skinned people whom the
Tuareg Moors may have enslaved. Despite their different ethnicities and
skin colors, Zurara viewed them as one people—one inferior people.4
Zurara made it a point to remind his readers that Prince Henry’s
“chief riches” in quickly seizing forty-six of the most valuable captives
“lay in his own purpose; for he reflected with great pleasure upon the
salvation of those souls that before were lost.” In building up Prince
Henry’s evangelical justification for enslaving Africans, Zurara reduced
these captives to barbarians who desperately needed not only religious
but also civil salvation. “They lived like beasts, without any custom of
reasonable beings,” he wrote. What’s more, “they have no knowledge
of bread or wine, and they were without covering of clothes, or the
lodgement of houses; and worse than all, they had no understanding
of good, but only knew how to live in bestial sloth.” In Portugal, their
lot was “quite the contrary of what it had been.” Zurara imagined slav-
ery in Portugal as an improvement over their free state in Africa.5
Zurara’s narrative covered from 1434 to 1447. During that period,
Zurara estimated, 927 enslaved Africans were brought to Portugal, “the
greater part of whom were turned into the true path of salvation.” Zur-
ara failed to mention that Prince Henry received the royal fifth (quinto),
or about 185 of those captives, for his immense fortune. But that was
irrelevant to his mission, a mission he accomplished. For convincing
readers, successive popes, and the reading European world that Prince
Henry’s Portugal did not engage in the slave trade for money, Zurara
was handsomely rewarded as Portugal’s chief royal chronicler, and he
was given two more lucrative commanderships in the Military Order
of Christ. Zurara’s bosses quickly reaped returns from their slave trad-
ing. In 1466, a Czech traveler noticed that the king of Portugal was
making more selling captives to foreigners “than from all the taxes lev-
ied on the entire kingdom.”6
rigins of a ist deas 25

Zurara circulated the manuscript of The Chronicle of the Discovery and
Conquest of Guinea to the royal court as well as to scholars, investors,
and captains, who then read and circulated it throughout Portugal and
Spain. Zurara died in Lisbon in 1474, but his ideas about slavery endured
as the slave trade expanded. By the 1490s, Portuguese explorers had
crept southward along the West African coast, rounding the Cape of
Good Hope into the Indian Ocean. In their growing networks of ports,
agents, ships, crews, and financiers, pioneering Portuguese slave-traders
and explorers circulated the racist ideas in Zurara’s book faster and far-
ther than the text itself had reached. The Portuguese became the pri-
mary source of knowledge on unknown Africa and the African people
for the original slave-traders and enslavers in Spain, Holland, France,
and England. By the time German printer Valentim Fernandes pub-
lished an abridged version of Zurara’s book in Lisbon in 1506, enslaved
Africans—and racist ideas—had arrived in the Americas.7

IN 1481, THE PORTUGUESE began building a large fort, São Jorge da

Mina, known simply as Elmina, or “the mine,” as part of their plan to
acquire Ghanaian gold. In due time, this European building, the first
known to be erected south of the Sahara, became West Africa’s largest
slave-trading post, the nucleus of Portugal’s operations in West Africa.
A Genoese explorer barely three decades old may have witnessed the
erection of Elmina Castle. Christopher Columbus, newly married to
the daughter of a Genoese protégé of Prince Henry, desired to make
his own story—but not in Africa. He looked instead to East Asia, the
source of spices. After Portuguese royalty refused to sponsor his daring
westward expedition, Queen Isabel of Spain, a great-niece of Prince
Henry, consented. So in 1492, after sixty-nine days at sea, Columbus’s
three small ships touched the shores that Europeans did not know
existed: first the glistening Bahamas, and the next night, Cuba.8
Almost from Columbus’s arrival, Spanish colonists began to
degrade and enslave the indigenous American peoples, naming them
negros da terra (Blacks from the land), transferring their racist construc-
tions of African people onto Native Americans. Over the years that
26 tamped from the Beginning
followed, they used the force of the gun and the Bible in one of the
most frightful and sudden massacres in human history. Thousands of
Native Americans died resisting enslavement. More died from Euro-
pean diseases, from the conditions they suffered while forcibly tilling
fields, and on death marches searching and mining for gold. Thou-
sands of Native Americans were driven off their land by Spanish set-
tlers dashing into the colonies after riches. Spanish merchant Pedro
de Las Casas settled in Hispaniola in 1502, the year the first enslaved
Africans disembarked from a Portuguese slave ship. He brought along
his eighteen-year-old son Bartolomé, who would play an outsized role
in the direction slavery took in the so-called New World.9
By 1510, Bartolomé de Las Casas had accumulated land and cap-
tives as well as his ordination papers as the Americas’ first priest. He
felt proud in welcoming the Dominican Friars to Hispaniola in 1511.
Sickened by Taíno slavery, the Friars stunned Las Casas and broke
abolitionist ground, rejecting the Spanish line (taken from the Por-
tuguese) that the Taíno people benefited, through Christianity, from
slavery. King Ferdinand promptly recalled the Dominican Friars, but
their antislavery sermons never left Bartolomé de Las Casas. In 1515,
he departed for Spain, where he would conduct a lifelong campaign
to ease the suffering of Native Americans, and, possibly more impor-
tantly—solve the settlers’ extreme labor shortage. In one of his first
written pleas in 1516, Las Casas suggested importing enslaved Afri-
cans to replace the rapidly declining Native American laborers, a
plea he made again two years later. Alonso de Zuazo, a University of
Salamanca–trained lawyer, had made a similar recommendation back
in 1510. “General license should be given to bring negroes, a [peo-
ple] strong for work, the opposite of the natives, so weak who can
work only in undemanding tasks,” Zuazo wrote. In time, some indige-
nous peoples had caught wind of this new racist idea, and they readily
agreed that a policy of importing African laborers would be better.
An indigenous group in Mexico complained that the “difficult and
arduous work” involved in harnessing a sugar crop was “only for the
blacks and not for the thin and weak Indians.” Las Casas and company
rigins of a ist deas 27

birthed twins—racist twins that some Native Americans and Africans
took in: the myth of the physically strong, beastly African, and the
myth of the physically weak Native American who easily died from
the strain of hard labor.10

ALTHOUGH LAS CASAS’S IDEAS were at first discounted, his treatises soon
became a useful tool for Spain’s growing empire and its investment in
American slavery. Bishop Sebastián Ramirez de Fuenleal reported in
1531 that the “entire population . . . of Espanola, San Juan and even
Cuba are demanding that they should have negroes to mine gold”
and produce crops. Las Casas led the charge for the historic passage
in 1542 of the “New Laws of the Indies for the Good Treatment and
Preservation of the Indians.” That memorable year, he also finished
and sent to Prince Philip II his classic, A Short Account of the Destruction
of the Indies, and issued his third memorial recommending that enslaved
Africans replace Native Americans.
At some point after that, Las Casas read Gomes Eanes de Zur-
ara’s book. The more he read, the less he could square the African
slave trade with the teachings of Jesus Christ. In History of the Indies
(1561), released five years before his death, Las Casas regretted “the
advice he gave the king” to import enslaved Africans. He saw in Zur-
ara’s writing evidence revealing the slave trade to “be the horror that it
is.” Las Casas lamented Zurara’s attempt “to blur [the slave trade] with
the mercy and goodness of God.” Las Casas tried to close the door
on African slavery, after opening it for so many Spanish slavehold-
ers. He failed. A powerful reformer labeled a radical extremist in his
last days—like every antiracist who came after him—Las Casas was
condemned in Spain after his death, and his works were practically
banned there. Catholic Spain’s Protestant rivals published and repub-
lished his devastating Account of the Destruction of the Indies—in Dutch
(1578), French (1578), English (1583), and German (1599)—in their
quest to label the Spanish Empire corrupt and morally repugnant, all
in their quest to replace Spain as Europe’s superpower.11
28 tamped from the Beginning
DESPITE SPAIN’S RISE, Portugal remained the undisputed power of
the African slave trade. And Gomes Eanes de Zurara’s racist ideas
remained Europe’s undisputed defenders of slave trading until another
man, an African, rose up to carry on the legacy. Around 1510,
Al-Hasan Ibn Muhammad al-Wazzan al-Fasi, a well-educated Moroc-
can, accompanied his uncle on a diplomatic mission down into the
Songhay Empire. Eight years later, he was enslaved on another dip-
lomatic voyage along the Mediterranean Sea. His captors presented
the learned twenty-four-year-old to the scholarly Pope Leo X in Italy.
Before dying in 1521, the pope freed the youngster, converted him
to Christianity, renamed him Johannes Leo, and possibly commis-
sioned him to write a survey of Africa. He became known as Leo the
African, or Leo Africanus. He satisfied Italian curiosity in 1526 with
the first scholarly survey of Africa in Europe, Della descrittione dell’Africa
(Description of Africa).
Leo Africanus described the etymology of Africa and then sur-
veyed African geography, languages, cultures, religions, and diseases.
His summation: “There is no Nation under Heaven more prone to
Venery [sexual indulgence].” The Africans “leade a beastly kind of life,
being utterly destitute of the use of reason, of dexterities of wit, and of
all arts,” Africanus wrote. “They . . . behave themselves, as if they had
continually lived in a Forrest among wild beasts.”
Leo the African did not ignore the elephant in the room. How
do “I my selfe write so homely of Africa,” he asked, when “I stand
indebted [to Africa] both for my birth” and education? He considered
himself to be a “historiographer” charged with telling “the plaine truth
in all places.” Africanus did not mind if Africans were denigrated. He
believed he was describing Africans accurately.12
Leo Africanus established himself through Della descrittione dell’Africa
as the world’s first known African racist, the first illustrious African
producer of racist ideas (as Zurara was the first illustrious European
producer of racist ideas). Anyone can consume or produce racist ideas
of African inferiority—any European, any Asian, any Native Amer-
ican, any Latina/o, and any African. Leo’s African ancestry hardly
rigins of a ist deas 29

shielded him from believing in African inferiority and European supe-
riority, or from trying to convince others of this plain racist “truth.”
Leo Africanus may have never visited the fifteen African lands he
claims to have seen. He could have paraphrased the notes of Portu-
guese travelers. But veracity did not matter. Once the manuscript was
finished in 1526, once it was published in Italian in 1550, and once it
was translated into French and Latin in 1556, readers across Western
Europe were consuming it and tying African people to hypersexual-
ity, to animals, and to the lack of reason. It is not known what hap-
pened to Leo the African, the author of the most widely read and
most influential book on Africa—next to Zurara’s—during the 1500s.
He made countless Europeans feel that they knew him, or rather,
knew Africa.
Around the time Leo the African’s text was making its way through
Europe, and around the time Richard Mather’s parents were born, the
British began their quest to break the Portuguese monopoly on Afri-
can slave-trading, eager to reap the benefits and grow their empire. In
1554, an expedition captained by John Lok, ancestor of philosopher
John Locke, arrived in England after traveling to “Guinea.” Lok and
his compatriots Robert Gainish and William Towerson docked with
450 pounds of gold, 250 ivory tusks, and five enslaved African men.
These three Englishmen established themselves as the new authori-
ties on Africa and African people among curious British minds. Their
opinions seemed to be shaped as much by the Portuguese and French
as by their own observations. Sounding like Leo Africanus or Zurara,
Gainish labeled Africans a “people of beastly living, without a God,
law, religions, or common wealth.” The five “beasts” that he and his
shipmates brought back to England all learned English and were sent
back to Africa to serve as translators for English traders.13
As English contact with Africans matured, so did the desire to
explain the radical color differences. Writers like Gainish applied cli-
mate theory to the dark skins of Africa and the light skins of Europe.
The popular theory made sense when looking at Europe, the Medi-
terranean, and Africa. But what about the rest of the world? During
30 tamped from the Beginning
the final decades of the sixteenth century, a new genre of British lit-
erature adopted a different theory. Writers brought amazing stories
of the world into Anglican homes, into the Puritan homes of Richard
Mather and John Cotton, and into the homes of other future leaders
of colonial America. And these worldly stories were as racist as they
were amazing.

Coming to America
EXPLORERS WROTE ABOUT their adventures, and their tales fascinated Euro-
peans. This new travel literature gave Europeans sitting by their firesides
a window into faraway lands where different-looking people resided in
cultures that seemed exotic and strange. But the literary glimpses that
explorers provided of African lands were usually overshadowed by the
self-interests of the backers of the expeditions, who aimed most of all to
fulfill their colonizing and slave-trading desires. Even a lonely abolition-
ist, French philosopher Jean Bodin, found his thoughts bogged down by
tales connecting two simultaneous discoveries: that of West Africans,
and that of the dark, tailless apes walking around like humans in West
Africa. Africa’s heat had produced hypersexual Africans, Bodin theo-
rized in 1576, and “intimate relations between the men and beasts . . .
still give birth to monsters in Africa.” The climate theory of Africa’s hot
sun transforming the people into uncivil beasts of burden still held the
court of racist opinion. But not much longer.1
For English travel writer George Best, climate theory fell apart when
he saw on an Arctic voyage in 1577 that the Inuit people in northeast-
ern Canada were darker than the people living in the hotter south. In a
1578 account of the expedition, Best shied away from climate theory in
explaining “the Ethiopians blacknesse.” He found an alternative: “holy
Scripture,” or the curse theory that had recently been articulated by
a Dominican Friar in Peru and a handful of French intellectuals, a the-
ory more enticing to slaveholders. In Best’s whimsical interpretation of
Genesis, Noah orders his White and “Angelike” sons to abstain from

32 tamped from the Beginning
sex with their wives on the Ark, and then tells them that the first child
born after the flood would inherit the earth. When the evil, tyranni-
cal, and hypersexual Ham has sex on the Ark, God wills that Ham’s
descendants shall be “so blacke and loathsome,” in Best’s telling, “that it
might remain a spectacle of disobedience to all the worlde.”2
The first major debate between racists had invaded the English
discourse. This argument about the cause of inferior Blackness—curse
or climate, nature or nurture—would rage for decades, and eventually
influence settlers to America. Curse theorists were the first known seg-
regationists. They believed that Black people were naturally and per-
manently inferior, and totally incapable of becoming White. Climate
theorists were the first known assimilationists, believing Black people
had been nurtured by the hot sun into a temporary inferiority, but
were capable of becoming White if they moved to a cooler climate.
George Best produced his curse theory in 1578, in the era between
Henry VII and Oliver Cromwell, a time during which the English
nation was experiencing the snowballing, conflicting passions of over-
seas adventure and domestic control, or, to use historian Winthrop Jor-
dan’s words, of “voyages of discovery overseas” and “inward voyages of
discovery.” The mercantile expansion abroad, the progressively com-
mercialized economy at home, the fabulous profits, the exciting adven-
ture stories, and the class warfare all destabilized the social order in
Elizabethan England, a social order being intensely scrutinized by the
rising congregation of morally strict, hyper-dictating, pious Puritans.
George Best used Africans as “social mirrors,” to use Jordan’s phrase,
for the hypersexuality, greed, and lack of discipline—the Devil’s machi-
nations—that he “found first” in England “but could not speak of.” Nor-
malizing negative behavior in faraway African people allowed writers to
de-normalize negative behavior in White people, to de-normalize what
they witnessed during intense appraisals of self and nation.

PROBABLY NO ONE in England collected and read travel stories more

eagerly than Richard Hakluyt. In 1589, he published his travel col-
lection in The Principall Navigations, Voyages, and Discoveries of the English
Coming to meri a 33

Nation. In issuing this monumental collection of nearly all the avail-
able documents describing British overseas adventures, Hakluyt urged
explorers, traders, and missionaries to fulfill their superior destiny, to
civilize, Christianize, capitalize, and command the world.3
The Puritans believed, too, in civilizing and Christianizing the
world, but their approach to the project was slightly different from
that of most explorers and expedition sponsors. For the others, it was
about economic returns or political power. For Puritan preachers, it
was about bringing social order to the world. Cambridge professor
William Perkins rested at the cornerstone of British Puritanism in the
late sixteenth century. “Though the servant in regard of faith and the
inner man be equal to his master, in regard of the outward man . . .
the master is above the servant,” he explained in Ordering a Familie,
published in 1590. In paraphrasing St. Paul, Perkins became one of
the first major English theorists—or assimilationist theologians, to be
more precise—to mask the exploitative master/servant or master/slave
relationship as a loving family relationship. He thus added to Zurara’s
justifying theory of Portuguese enslavers nurturing African beasts.
For generations to come, assimilationist slaveholders, from Richard
Mather’s New England to Hispaniola, would shrewdly use this loving- ­
family mask to cover up the exploitation and brutality of slavery. It
was Perkins’s family ordering that Puritan leaders like John Cotton and
Richard Mather used to sanction slavery in Massachusetts a genera-
tion later. And it was Perkins’s claim of equal souls and unequal bodies
that led Puritan preachers like Cotton and Mather to minister to Afri-
can souls and not challenge the enslavement of their bodies.4
Richard Mather was born in 1596 in northeastern England at the
height of William Perkins’s influence. After Perkins died in 1602, Puri-
tan Paul Baynes succeeded him at Cambridge. Richard Mather closely
studied Baynes’s writings, and he probably could quote his most famous
treatise, Commentary on Ephesians. In the commentary, Baynes said slavery
was partly a curse for sins and partly a result of “civil condition,” or
barbarism. “Blackmores” were “slavish,” he said, and he urged slaves to
be cheerfully obedient. Masters were to show their superiority through
kindness and through a display of “a white sincere heart.”5
34 tamped from the Beginning
AS RICHARD MATHER came of age, Richard Hakluyt was establishing him-
self as England’s greatest promoter of overseas colonization. Hakluyt
surrounded himself with a legion of travel writers, translators, explor-
ers, traders, investors, colonizers—everyone who might play a role in
colonizing the world—and began mentoring them. In 1597, he urged
mentee John Pory, a recent Cambridge graduate, to complete a trans-
lation that may have been on Hakluyt’s list for quite some time. Pory
translated Leo Africanus’s Geographical Histories of Africa into English in
1600. English readers consumed it as quickly as other Europeans had
for decades, and they were just as impressed. In a long introduction,
Pory argued that climate theory could not explain the geographical
distinctions in color. They must be “hereditary,” Pory suggested. Afri-
cans were “descended from Ham the cursed son of Noah.”6
Whether they chose to illuminate the stamp of Blackness through
curse theory or climate theory, the travel writers and translators of the
time had a larger common goal, and they accomplished it: they ushered
in the British age of adventure. They were soon followed by another
group: the playwrights. With the English literacy rate low, many more
British imaginations were churned by playwrights than by travel writ-
ers. At the turn of the century, a respected London playwright from
Stratford-upon-Avon was escorting English audiences back into the
ancient world and around modern Europe, from Scotland (Macbeth),
to Denmark (Hamlet), to inferior Blackness and superior Whiteness in
Italy (The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice). The racial politics of Wil-
liam Shakespeare’s Othello did not surprise English audiences when it
premiered in 1604. By the late 1500s, English dramatists were used to
manufacturing Satan’s Black agents on earth. Shakespeare’s first Black
character, the evil, oversexed Aaron in Titus Andronicus, first came to
the stage in 1594. Down in Spain, dramatists frequently staged Black
people as cruel idiots in the genre called comedias de negros.7
Shakespeare’s Othello is a Moorish Christian general in the Vene-
tian military, a character inspired by the 1565 Italian tale Gli Hecatom-
mithi, and possibly by Leo Africanus, the Christian Moor in Italy who
despised his Blackness. Othello’s trusted ensign, Iago, resents Oth-
ello for marrying the Venetian Desdemona. “For that I do suspect the
Coming to meri a 35

lusty Moor / Hath leaped into my seat,” Iago explains. To Desdemona’s
father, Iago labels Othello “an old black ram / . . . tupping your white
ewe.” Iago manipulates Othello to make him believe his wife betrayed
him. “Her name that was as fresh / as Dian’s visage, is now begrim’d and
black / As mine own face,” Othello says before strangling Desdemona.
At the play’s climax, Othello realizes his dead wife’s innocence and
confesses to Emilia, Desdemona’s maidservant. “O! the more angel she,”
Emilia responds. “And you the blacker devil.” Othello commits suicide.8
The theater-loving Queen Elizabeth did not see Othello, as she
did some of Shakespeare’s earlier plays. She died in 1603. When the
deadly plague of 1604 subsided, her successor, King James I, arrived
in London, and started making plans for his grand coronation. King
James I and his wife, Queen Anne of Denmark, saw Othello. But King
James I commissioned Shakespeare’s rival playwright, Ben Jonson, to
produce an alluring international masque for his coronation, and to
mark the end of Elizabethan self-isolation. Queen Anne proposed an
African theme to reflect the new king’s international focus. Leo Afri-
canus, travel stories, and Othello had sparked the queen’s interest in
Africa. Satisfying his queen, Jonson wrote The Masque of Blackness.
Premiering on January 7, 1605, in the great hall of London’s
sparkling Whitehall Palace, which overlooks the snowy banks of the
Thames River, The Masque of Blackness was the most expensive pro-
duction ever presented in London. Its elaborate costumes, exciting
dancing, sensational choirs, booming orchestras, exotic scenery, and a
luxurious banquet caused all in attendance to marvel at the spectacle.
Inspired by climate theory, it was the story of twelve ugly African prin-
cesses of the river god Niger who learn they can be “made beautiful”
if they travel to “Britannia,” where the sun “beams shine day and night,
and are of force / To blanch an Æthiop, and revive a corpse.” Queen
Anne herself and eleven court ladies played the African princesses in
blackface, inaugurating the use of black paint on the royal stage.9
The Masque of Blackness presented the imperial vision of King James I,
Prince Charles, Richard Hakluyt, and a powerful lineup of English
investors, merchants, missionaries, and explorers. And it helped renew
British determination to expand Britannia to America. King James
36 tamped from the Beginning
chartered the London Company in 1606 with his eyes on North
America—one eye on Virginia, another on New England. Although
misfortune plagued the New England undertakings, Virginia fared
better. Captain John Smith, a mentee of Richard Hakluyt, helped
command the expedition of roughly 150 volunteers on the three boats
that entered the Chesapeake Bay on April 26, 1607. Against all odds—
and thanks to the assistance of the indigenous Powhatan Americans—
North America’s first permanent English settlement survived. His
mission accomplished, John Smith returned as a hero to England in
October 1609.10
In colonizing Virginia (and later New England), the British had
already begun to conceive of distinct races. The word race first appeared
in Frenchman Jacques de Brézé’s 1481 poem “The Hunt,” where it
referred to hunting dogs. As the term expanded to include humans
over the next century, it was used primarily to identify and differenti-
ate and animalize African people. The term did not appear in a dictio-
nary until 1606, when French diplomat Jean Nicot included an entry
for it. “Race . . . means descent,” he explained, and “it is said that a man,
a horse, a dog or another animal is from good or bad race.” Thanks
to this malleable concept in Western Europe, the British were free to
lump the multiethnic Native Americans and the multiethnic Africans
into the same racial groups. In time, Nicot’s construction became as
addictive as the tobacco plant, which he introduced in France.11
Captain John Smith never returned to Jamestown. He spent the
rest of his life as the greatest literary mentee of Richard Hakluyt, pro-
moting British migration to America. Thousands crossed the Atlantic
moved by Smith’s exhilarating travel books, which by 1624 included
his tale of Pocahontas saving his life. Pocahontas, the “civilized sav-
age,” had by then converted to Christianity, married an Englishman,
and visited London. The English approved. Black people did not fare
so well, in Smith’s estimation. Settlers read his worldly—or rather,
racist—opinions, though, and adopted them as their own. In his final
book, published the year of his death in 1631, Smith told “unexpe-
rienced” New England planters that the enslaved Africans were “as
idle and as devilish as any in the world.” Apparently, Smith thought
Coming to meri a 37

this knowledge would be useful to planters, probably knowing it was
only a matter of time before enslaved Africans were brought to New
But Smith was only recasting ideas he had heard in England
between The Masque of Blackness, the founding of Virginia, and the
founding of New England, ideas English intellectuals had probably
learned from Spanish enslavers and Portuguese slave-traders. “Men
that have low and flat nostrils are as Libidinous as Apes,” cleric Edward
Topsell explained in 1607 in Historie of Foure-Footed Beastes. King James
made the common association of apes and devils in his 1597 book
Daemonologie. In one of his last plays, The Tempest (1611), Shakespeare
played on these associations of the ape and devil and African in craft-
ing Caliban, the hypersexual bastard child of a demon and an African
witch from a “vile race.” In 1614, England’s first famous working-class
poet, John Taylor, said that “black nations” adored the “Black” Devil.
In a 1615 address for the planters in Ireland and Virginia, the Rever-
end Thomas Cooper said that White Shem, one of Noah’s three sons,
“shall be Lord over” the “cursed race of Cham”—meaning Noah’s son
Ham—in Africa. Future Virginia politician George Sandys also con-
jured curse theory to degrade Blackness. In a 1620 paraphrase of Gen-
esis, future politician Thomas Peyton wrote of Cain, or “the Southern
man,” as a “black deformed elf,” and “the Northern white, like unto
God himself.” Five years later, Clergyman Samuel Purchas released the
gargantuan four-volume Hakluytus Posthumus of travel manuscripts left
to him by his mentor, Richard Hakluyt. Purchas blasted the “filthy
sodomits, sleepers, ignorant, beast, disciples of Cham . . . to whom the
blacke darknesse is reserved for ever.” These were the ideas about Afri-
can people circulating throughout England and the English colonies as
African people were being hauled into Britannia on slave ships.13

IN 1619, RICHARD MATHER began ministering not far from the future cen-
ter of the British slave trade, the port of Liverpool. In those days, the
British slave trade was minuscule, and Africans hardly existed in Bri-
tannia. But that would soon change. The vessels of slave traders were
38 tamped from the Beginning
cruising deeper and deeper into the heart of West Africa, especially
after the Moroccans, armed with English guns, crushed the Songhay
Empire in 1591. The vessels of English commerce were cruising deeper
and deeper into Virginia, too, as English merchants competed with the
Spanish, Portuguese, and rising Dutch and French empires.14
The first recorded slave ship to arrive in colonial America laden
with African people was not originally intended for the English colo-
nies. The Spanish ship San Juan Bautista departed Angola in July 1619
hauling 350 captives, probably headed for Vera Cruz, Mexico. Latin
American slaveholders had used racist ideas to craft a permanent slav-
ery for the quarter of a million Africans they held at that time. Two
pirate ships probably attacked the Spanish ship in the Gulf of Mex-
ico, snatching some 60 captives, and then headed east. Weeks later, in
August 1619, the pirates sold 20 of their Angolan captives in Jamestown
to Virginia governor George Yeardley, the owner of 1,000 acres.15
John Pory, the translator of Leo the African’s book into English,
was Yeardley’s cousin, and he ventured to Jamestown in 1619 to serve
as Yeardley’s secretary. On July 30, 1619, Yeardley convened the
inaugural meeting of elected politicians in colonial America, a group
that included Thomas Jefferson’s great-grandfather. These lawmak-
ers named John Pory their speaker. The English translator of Leo the
African’s book, who had defended curse theory, thus became colonial
America’s first legislative leader.16
John Pory set the price of America’s first cash crop, tobacco,
and recognized the need for labor to grow it. So when the Angolans
bound for slavery arrived in August, they were right on time. There
is no reason to believe that George Yeardley and the other original
enslavers did not rationalize their enslavement of African people in
the same way that other British intellectuals did—and in the same way
that Latin American slaveholders did—by considering these African
people to be stamped from the beginning as a racially distinct people,
as lower than themselves, and as lower in the scale of being than the
more populous White indentured servants. The 1625 Virginia census
did not list the ages or dates of arrival for most Africans. Nor did the
census list any of them—despite in some cases the fact that they had
Coming to meri a 39

resided in Virginia for six years—as free. Africans were recorded as
distinct from White servants. When Yeardley died in 1627, he willed
to his heirs his “goods debts chattles servants negars cattle or any other
thynge.” “Negars” were dropped below “servants” in the social hierar-
chy to reflect the economic hierarchy. And this stratification became
clear in Virginia’s first judicial decision explicitly referring to race. The
court ordered a White man in 1630 “to be soundly whipt before an
assembly of negroes & others for abusing himself to the dishonor of
God and the shame of Christianity by defiling his body in lying with
a negro.” The court contrasted the polluted Black woman and the pure
White woman, with whom he could lie without defiling his body. It
was the first recorded instance of gender racism in America, of consid-
ering the body of the Black woman to be a tainted object that could
defile a White man upon contact.17
Richard Mather never saw a slave ship leave the Liverpool docks
during his ministerial tenure in Toxteth in the 1620s. Liverpool did
not become England’s main slave-ship station until the 1740s, succeed-
ing London and Bristol. British slave-traders were slowly expanding
their activities in the 1620s, unlike all those Anglican persecutors
of Puritans. The death of King James and the coronation of his son,
Charles I, in 1625 set off a persecuting stampede. William Ames, a dis-
ciple of William Perkins, who was exiled in Holland, steeled Richard
Mather, John Cotton, and countless other Puritans with The Marrow of
Sacred Divinity. Translated from Latin into English in 1627, the treatise
described the sacred divinity of spiritual equality “between a free man
and a servant”; the sacred divinity of “inferiors” owing “subjection and
obedience” to their “superiors”; and the sacred divinity of “our blood
kin” being “given more love than strangers.” The Marrow’s explanation
became a guiding principle for Mather’s generation of Puritans settling
the Massachusetts Bay area in the late 1620s and 1630s. Puritans used
this doctrine when assessing Native American and African strangers,
ensuring intolerance from the start in their land of tolerance.18
Beginning in 1642, Anglican monarchists and nonconforming par-
liamentarians locked arms in the English Civil War. As New England
Puritans welcomed the nonconforming parliamentarians, Virginia’s
40 tamped from the Beginning
royalists prayed for their retreating King Charles I. But in 1649, he was
executed. Three years later, Virginia was forced to surrender to the
new ruling parliament.
The economic hierarchy that had emerged in Virginia resembled
the pecking order that William Ames had proposed and that Puritans
established in New England—although their political and religious
allegiances differed. Large planters and ministers and merchants stood
at the top—men like John Mottrom of Virginia’s Northern Neck, who
used his power to acquire fertile land, solicit trade, procure labor, and
keep legally free people—like Elizabeth Key—enslaved.19
Elizabeth Key was the daughter of an unnamed African woman
and Newport News legislator Thomas Key. Before his death, Thomas
had arranged for his biracial daughter to be freed at age fifteen. Her
subsequent masters, however, kept her enslaved. At some point, she
adopted Christianity. She birthed a baby, whose father was William
Greenstead, an English indentured servant and amateur lawyer on
Mottrom’s plantation. Upon Mottrom’s death in 1655, Key and Green-
stead successfully sued the estate for her and her child’s freedom.
Virginia planters followed the Key case almost as closely as they
followed the English Civil War. They realized that the English com-
mon laws regarding not enslaving Christians—and stipulating that the
father’s status determined the child’s status—both superseded curse
theory, climate theory, beast theory, evangelical theory, and every
other racist theory substantiating Black and biracial enslavement. Eliz-
abeth Key had ravaged the ties that planters had unofficially used to
bind African slavery.20
For Virginia planters, the timing of the Key case could not have
been worse. By the 1660s, labor demands had grown. Virginians had
uprooted more indigenous communities to expand their farmlands.
Landowners were looking increasingly to African laborers to do the
work, since their lower death rates made them more valuable and more
permanent than temporary indentures. At the same time, the bloody
English Civil War that had driven so many from England to America
had come to a close, and new socioeconomic opportunities in England
slowed the flow of voluntary indentured migrants. The White servants
Coming to meri a 41

still arriving partnered with the enslaved Africans in escapes and
rebellions, possibly bonding on similar stories of apprehension—being
lured onto ships on the western coasts of Africa or Europe.21
Planters responded to labor demands and laborers’ unity by pur-
chasing more African people and luring Whiteness away from Black-
ness. In the first official recognition of slavery in Virginia, legislators
stipulated, in 1660 (and in stricter terms in 1661), that any White
servant running away “in company with any negroes” shall serve for
the time of the “said negroes absence”—even if it meant life. In 1662,
Virginia lawmen plugged one of Key’s freedom loopholes to resolve
“doubts [that] have arisen whether children got by an Englishman upon
a negro woman should be slave or free.” They proclaimed that “all chil-
dren borne in this country” derived their status from “the condition of
the mother.” Trashing English law, they dusted off the Roman principle
of partus sequitur ventrem, which held that “among tame and domestic ani-
mals, the brood belongs to the owner of the dam or mother.”22
With this law in place, White enslavers could now reap financial
reward from relations “upon a negro woman.” But they wanted to pre-
vent the limited number of White women from engaging in similar
interracial relations (as their biracial babies would become free). In
1664, Maryland legislators declared it a “disgrace to our Nation” when
“English women . . . intermarry with Negro slaves.” By the end of the
century, Maryland and Virginia legislators had enacted severe penal-
ties for White women in relationships with non-White men.23
In this way, heterosexual White men freed themselves, through
racist laws, to engage in sexual relations with all women. And then
their racist literature codified their sexual privileges. The Isle of Pines,
a bizarre short story published in 1668 by former English parliamen-
tarian Henry Neville, gave readers one such ominous account. The
tale purposefully begins in 1589, the year the first edition of Rich-
ard Hakluyt’s Principal Navigations appeared. Surviving a shipwreck in
the Indian Ocean, George Pines finds himself alone on an uninhabited
island with an English fourteen-year-old; a Welsh maidservant; another
maidservant, whose Whiteness is clear and ethnicity is not; and “one
Negro female slave.” For Pines, “idleness and Fulness of every thing
42 tamped from the Beginning
begot in me a desire of enjoying the women.” He persuades the two
maids to lie with him, and then reports that the English fourteen-year-
old was “content also to do as we did.” The Negro woman, “seeing
what we did, longed also for her share.” One night, the uniquely sex-
ually aggressive Black woman makes her move in the darkness while
Pines sleeps.24
The Isle of Pines was one of the first portrayals in British letters of
aggressive hypersexual African femininity. Such portrayals served
both to exonerate White men of their inhuman rapes and to mask
their human attractions to the supposed beast-like women. And the
portrayals just kept coming, like the slave ships. Meanwhile, Ameri-
can enslavers publicly prostituted African women well into the eigh-
teenth century (privately thereafter). In a 1736 exchange of letters on
the inextricable sexuality and service of “African Ladies,” single White
men were counseled in the South-Carolina Gazette to “wait for the next
shipping from the Coast of Guinny”: “Those African Ladies are of a
strong, robust Constitution: not easily jaded out, able to serve them
by Night as well as Day.” On their isles of pines in colonial America,
White men continued to depict African women as sexually aggressive,
shifting the responsibility of their own sexual desires to the women.
Of the nearly one hundred reports of rape or attempted rape in
twenty-one newspapers in nine American colonies between 1728
and 1776, none reported the rape of a Black woman. Rapes of Black
women, by men of all races, were not considered newsworthy. Like
raped prostitutes, Black women’s credibility had been stolen by rac-
ist beliefs in their hypersexuality. For Black men, the story was simi-
lar. There was not a single article in the colonial era announcing the
acquittal of a suspected Black male rapist. One-third of White men
mentioned in rape articles were acknowledged as being acquitted of
at least one charge. Moreover, “newspaper reports of rape constructed
white defendants as individual offenders and black defendants as rep-
resentative of the failings of their racial group,” according to journal-
ism historian Sharon Block.25
Already, the American mind was accomplishing that indispens-
able intellectual activity of someone consumed with racist ideas:
Coming to meri a 43

individualizing White negativity and generalizing Black negativity. Neg-
ative behavior by any Black person became proof of what was wrong
with Black people, while negative behavior by any White person only
proved what was wrong with that person.
Black women were thought to aggressively pursue White men
sexually, and Black men were thought to aggressively pursue White
women sexually. Neither could help it, the racist myth posited. They
naturally craved superior Whiteness. Black women possessed a “tem-
per hot and lascivious, making no scruple to prostitute themselves to
the Europeans for a very slender profit, so great is their inclination
to white men,” dreamt William Smith, the author of New Voyage to
Guinea in 1744. And all of this lasciviousness on the part of Black men
and women stemmed from their relatively large genitalia, the theory
went. As early as 1482, Italian cartographer Jayme Bertrand depicted
Mali emperor Mansa Musa almost naked on his throne with oversized

SOME WHITE MEN were honest enough to broadcast their attractions,

usually justifying them with assimilationist ideas. Royalist Richard
Ligon, exiled from parliamentary England in Barbados, sat at a dinner
adoring the “black Mistress” of the colony’s governor. Barbados had
become richer than all the other British colonies combined by the mid-
1600s. Sugar was planted right up to the steps of homes, and the res-
idents ate New England food instead of growing their own. To Ligon,
the Black mistress had “the greatest beauty and majesty together: that
ever I saw in one woman,” exceeding Queen Anne of Denmark. Ligon
presented her with a gift after the dinner. She responded with “the
loveliest smile that I have ever seen.” It was impossible for Ligon to tell
what was whiter, her teeth “or the whites of her eyes.”
This was one of the many small stories that made up Ligon’s A
True and Exact Historie of the Island of Barbadoes in 1657, the year Elizabeth
Key’s case was finally settled. In one story, a submissive slave named
“Sambo” tells on his fellows who are planning a slave revolt and refuses
his reward. In another, Ligon informs a “cruel” master of Sambo’s
44 tamped from the Beginning
desire to be “made a Christian.” By English law, we cannot “make a
Christian a Slave,” the master responds. “My request was far different
from that,” Ligon replies, “for I desired him to make a Slave a Chris-
tian.” If Sambo becomes a Christian, he can no longer be enslaved, the
master says, and it will open “such a gap” that “all of the planters in the
island” will be upset. Ligon lamented that Sambo was to be kept out
of the church. But at the same time, he gave enslavers a new theory to
defend their enterprise: Blacks were naturally docile, and slaves could
and should become Christians. Planters had feared the conversion of
slaves because they believed that if their slaves were Christian, they
would have to be freed—and Elizabeth Key’s successful suit showed
that the laws supported this belief. Ligon’s distinction between making
“a Christian a slave” and “a slave a Christian” turned this idea on its
head. Though it took time, eventually it became the basis for closing
the religious loophole Key had exposed. Ligon lifted the biblical law
of converting the unconverted over British law barring the enslave-
ment of Christians. He promoted the idea of baptizing enslaved Afri-
cans through the docile figure of Sambo, and planters and intellectuals
almost certainly got the point: submissive, confessing Sambo desired
Christianity, and he should be permitted to have it. Indeed, Christi-
anity would only make slaves more docile. Ligon’s recommendation of
Christianizing the slave for docility appeared during a crucial time of
intellectual innovation. And as intellectual ideas abounded, justifica-
tions for slavery abounded, too.

ON NOVEMBER 28, 1660, a dozen men gathered in London and founded

what became known as the Royal Society. Europe’s scientific revolu-
tion had reached England. Italians initiated the Accademia dei Lincei
in 1603, the French L’Academie française was founded in 1635, and
the Germans established their national academy, Leopoldina, in 1652.
King Charles II chartered the Royal Society as one of the first acts of
his restored anti-Puritan monarchy in 1660. One of the early leaders of
the Royal Society was one of England’s most celebrated young schol-
ars, the author of The Sceptical Chymist (1661) and the father of English
Coming to meri a 45

chemistry—Robert Boyle. In 1665, Boyle urged his European peers
to compile more “natural” histories of foreign lands and peoples, with
Richard Ligon’s Historie of Barbados serving as the racist prototype.27
The year before, Boyle had jumped into the ring of the racial
debate with Of the Nature of Whiteness and Blackness. He rejected both
curse and climate theorists and knocked up a foundational antiracist
idea: “The Seat” of human pigmentation “seems to be but the thin Epi-
dermes, or outward Skin,” he wrote. And yet, this antiracist idea of skin
color being only skin deep did not stop Boyle from judging different
colors. Black skin, he maintained, was an “ugly” deformity of normal
Whiteness. The physics of light, Boyle argued, showed that White-
ness was “the chiefest color.” He claimed to have ignored his personal
“opinions” and “clearly and faithfully” presented the truth, as his Royal
Society deeded. As Boyle and the Royal Society promoted the inno-
vation and circulation of racist ideas, they promoted objectivity in all
their writings.28
Intellectuals from Geneva to Boston, including Richard Mather’s
youngest son, Increase Mather, carefully read and loudly hailed Boyle’s
work in 1664. A twenty-two-year-old unremarkable Cambridge stu-
dent from a farming family copied full quotations. As he rose in stat-
ure over the next forty years to become one of the most influential
scientists of all time, Isaac Newton took it upon himself to substantiate
Boyle’s color law: light is white is standard. In 1704, a year after he
assumed the presidency of the Royal Society, Newton released one
of the most eminent books of the modern era, Opticks. “Whiteness is
produced by the Convention of all Colors,” he wrote. Newton created
a color wheel to illustrate his thesis. “The center” was “white of the
first order,” and all the other colors were positioned in relation to their
“distance from Whiteness.” In one of the foundational books of the
upcoming European intellectual renaissance, Newton imaged “perfect
Robert Boyle would not live to read Opticks. He died, after a long
and influential life, in 1691. During his lifetime, he did not merely found
chemistry, whiten light, power the Royal Society, and inspire Isaac
Newton, the Mather clan, and throngs of intellectuals on both sides of
46 tamped from the Beginning
the Atlantic. Boyle sat on the original Council for Foreign Plantations
in 1660, which was commissioned concurrently with the Royal Society
to centralize and advise the vast empire that Charles II inherited.
In 1661, Boyle’s council made its first formal plea to planters in
Barbados, Maryland, and Virginia to convert enslaved Africans. “This
Act . . . shall [not] . . . impead, restrain, or impair” the power of mas-
ters, the council made sure to note. The council’s pleas resounded
louder and louder each year as the plantation economy surged across
the Western Hemisphere, as a growing flock of powerful British min-
isters vied for submission of African souls, and as planters vied for
submission of their bodies. Missionaries endeavored to grow God’s
kingdom as planters endeavored to grow profits. The marriage of
Christian slavery seemed destined. But enslaved Africans balked. The
vast majority of Africans in early America firmly resisted the religion
of their masters. And their masters balked, too. Enslavers would not, or
could not, listen to sermons to convert their slaves. Saving their crops
each year was more important to them than saving souls. But of course
they could not say that, and risk angering their ministers. Enslavers
routinely defended their inaction by claiming that enslaved Africans
were too barbaric to be converted.
The racist debate over the cause of Blackness—climate or curse—
had been joined by this new racist debate over Blacks’ capability for
Christianity. The segregationist belief that enslaved Africans should
not or could not be baptized was so widespread, and so taboo to dis-
cuss—as Richard Ligon found in Barbados—that virtually no enslaver
took to writing to defend it in a major piece in the 1600s. That did not
stop the assimilationists, who believed that lowly enslaved Africans,
practicing their supposed animalistic religions, were capable of being
raised to Christianity. In the 1660s, there emerged a missionary move-
ment to publicize this divine duty to resistant slaveholders and slaves.
Richard Mather’s grandson spent his adult life carrying this movement
to the churches of New England. But Mather did not live to see it.

Saving Souls, Not Bodies

WHEN CHARLES II restored the English throne in 1660, he restored the
religious persecution of Puritans. Roughly 2,000 Puritan ministers
were forced out of the Church of England during the Great Ejection.
In New England, Richard Mather had lost some hearing and sight
in one eye. But he was still as defiant to the crown as he had been
as a younger man, and he steered New England nonconformists as
adroitly as he had done for three decades. His fellow theological cap-
tain, John Cotton, had died in 1652. Mather’s first wife had also died,
and he had married Cotton’s widow, Sarah Hankredge Story Cotton.
His youngest son, Increase Mather, married Sarah’s daughter—now
his stepsister— Maria Cotton, further interlacing the ties between
the famous Cottons and Mathers. As if to triple-knot the family tie,
Increase and Sarah named their first son, upon his birth on February
12, 1663, Cotton Mather.
Richard Mather lived six years after the birth of his grandson.
When he died, Increase Mather honored his father by writing his
biography, putting in print Richard Mather’s providential deliverance
from the Great Hurricane of 1635, a story as meaningful to the Mather
lineage as any passage in the Bible. Increase Mather, who took the
helm of John Cotton’s famed North Church of Boston in 1664, taught
all ten of his eventual children that they were regular receivers of
divine providence like their grandfather. Increase especially expressed
this exceptionality to Cotton Mather. In time, Cotton would make his
father a prophet. He combined the best of the Cottons and Mathers,

48 tamped from the Beginning
eclipsing them all in America’s historical memory. By the century’s end,
African slavery sounded as natural to the colonists as the name “Cot-
ton Mather,” and hardly any intellectual was more responsible for this
binding than Cotton Mather himself. Cotton Mather was not the sole
progenitor of such ideas, however. He was influenced by the books he
read by his contemporaries. And few, if any, books influenced Cotton
Mather’s racist ideas more than Richard Baxter’s A Christian Directory.
From his British ministerial post in Kidderminster, Richard Baxter
urged slaveholders across the ocean to follow God’s law in making
slaves into Christians in his well-traveled treatise A Christian Directory
(1664–1665). He told them to “make it your chief end in buying and
using slaves, to win them to Christ, and save their Souls.” Be sure to
“let their Salvation be far more valued by you than their Service.”
Although he was at the head of the missionary movement, Baxter was
not alone in proselytizing to African people. As early as 1657, English
Dissenter George Fox prevailed on his newly founded Religious Soci-
ety of Friends, or Quakers, to convert the enslaved. Eschewing church
hierarchies, and preaching that everyone had access to the “inward
light of God,” the Quakers seemed primed to one day produce aboli-
tionists and antiracists.1
In an effort to square his Christian faith—or his nation’s Christian
faith—with slavery, Baxter tried to argue that some kind of benev-
olent slavery was possible and would be helpful for African people.
These assimilationist ideas of Christianizing and civilizing enslaved
Africans were particularly dangerous because they gave convincing
power to the idea that slavery was just and should not be resisted. And
so Baxter, a nonconforming Puritan, conformed—and conformed his
Puritan readers—to most, though certainly not all, of the racist poli-
cies of Charles II’s expanding slaveholding empire. People who have
“forfeited life or liberty” can be enslaved, Baxter wrote. However, “to
go as pirates and catch up poor negroes . . . is one of the worst kind of
thievery in the world.” Enslavers “that buy them and use them as beasts
and . . . neglect their souls, are fitter to be called incarnate devils than
Christians.” Baxter naïvely believed there existed in bulk in the slave
trade what he called a “voluntary-slave.” He tried to will into existence
aving ouls, ot Bodies 49

a world where loving masters bought voluntary slaves to save their
souls. Baxter’s world remained a heavenly dream crafted long ago
by Gomes Eanes de Zurara. But even that dream world was seen as
a threat by enslavers. American enslavers were still afraid to baptize
Africans, because Christian slaves, like Elizabeth Key, could sue for
their freedom.2
The colonies moved quickly to legalize the proselytizing demands
of missionaries like Richard Baxter, and to hush the freedom cries
from Christian slaves. In 1667, Virginia decreed that “the conferring
of baptisme doth not alter the condition of the person as to his bond-
age.” New York did the same in 1664, as did Maryland in 1671. “May
more” masters, the Virginia legislators inscribed, “carefully endeavor
the propagation of Christianity” to slaves. Masters were supposed
to care for the resisting souls of their captives. But what about their
resisting bodies? In 1667, the English Parliament empowered masters
to control the “wild, barbarous and savage nature” of enslaved Africans
“only with strict severity.” And in 1669, the personal physician of Lord
Anthony Ashley Cooper, one of the Lords Proprietor of the Province
of Carolina, in his draft of the original Fundamental Constitution of the Car-
olinas, awarded the founding planters of the province “absolute power
and authority” over their captives.3

WHEN JOHN LOCKE moved to London in 1667 to become the personal

physician of Lord Cooper, he had much more to offer the colonizing
British politician than his medical expertise. He had studied at the feet
of Robert Boyle after his educational tenure at Oxford, and he had
ended up collecting more travel books than philosophy texts for his
immense personal library. Lord Cooper asked Locke to draw up the
Carolinas constitution and serve as the secretary of the Proprietors
(and soon the Council of Trade and Plantations and the Board of Trade
and Plantations). Not many Englishmen were more knowledgeable—
or less compassionate—than Locke about British colonialism and
slavery. “You should feel nothing at all of others’ misfortune,” Locke
advised a friend in 1670.4
50 tamped from the Beginning
Between all his colonial and medical duties, by July 1671 Locke
had written the first draft of his lasting philosophical monument, An
Essay Concerning Humane Understanding. Over the next two decades, he
revised and expanded the essay before its grand appearance in four
books in 1689. That year, Locke also released his Two Treatises of Govern-
ment, attacking monarchy, requesting a “government with the consent
of the governed,” and distinguishing between temporary “servants”
and “slaves, who being captives taken in a just war, are by the right
of nature subjected to the absolute dominion and arbitrary power of
their masters.” Just as Richard Baxter had pushed his “voluntary slave”
theory to defend slavery in his free Christian society, John Locke
pushed his “just war” theory to defend slavery in his free civil society.
In any society, the mind “at first . . . is rasa tabula,” Locke famously
wrote in An Essay Concerning Humane Understanding. If people are born
without innate intelligence, then there cannot be a natural intellec-
tual hierarchy. But Locke’s egalitarian idea had a caveat. As Boyle and
Newton painted unblemished light white, Locke more or less painted
the unblemished mind white. Locke used the term “white paper” much
more often than “blank slate” or “tabula rasa” to describe the child’s “as
yet unprejudiced Understanding.”5
Locke also touched on the origin of species in An Essay Concern-
ing Humane Understanding. Apes, whether “these be all Men, or no, all
of human Species,” depended on one’s “definition of the Word Man,”
because, he said, “if History lie not,” then West African women had
conceived babies with apes. Locke thus reinforced African female
hypersexuality in a passage sent round the English-speaking world.
“And what real Species, by that measure, such a Production will be in
Nature, will be a new Question.” Locke’s new “Question” reflected
another new racist debate that most debaters feared to engage in pub-
licly. Assimilationists argued monogenesis: that all humans were one
species descended from a single human creation in Europe’s Garden
of Eden. Segregationists argued polygenesis: that there were multiple
origins of multiple human species.
Ever since Europeans had laid eyes on Native Americans in 1492,
a people unmentioned in the Bible, they had started questioning the
aving ouls, ot Bodies 51

biblical creation story. Some speculated that Native Americans had to
have descended from “a different Adam.” By the end of the sixteenth
century, European thinkers had added African people to the list of
species descended from a different Adam. In 1616, Italian freethinker
Lucilio Vanini said—as Locke suggested later—that Ethiopians and
apes must have the same ancestry, distinct from Europeans. But no
one made the case for polygenesis as stoutly as French theologian Isaac
La Peyrère in Prae-Adamitae in 1655. Translated into English in 1656,
Men Before Adam was publicly burned in Paris and banned from Europe
(after Locke secured a copy). Christians tossed La Peyrère in prison and
burned Vanini at the stake for defying the Christian monogenesis story
of Adam and Eve. But they could not stop the drift of polygenesis.
To justify Black enslavement, Barbados planters actually “pre-
ferred” the polygenesis theory over the curse theory of Ham, accord-
ing to eyewitness Morgan Godwyn. Godwyn made this revelation in
a 1680 pamphlet that criticized racist planters for making “those two
words, Negro and Slave,” synonymous, while “White” was “the general
name for Europeans.” This Anglican brought his missionary zeal from
Virginia to Barbados in the 1670s. He stood at the forefront of his
denomination’s efforts to baptize enslaved Africans, aping a Quaker
named William Edmundson.6

IN 1675, A WAR more destructive than the Great Hurricane of 1635 rav-
aged New England. Three thousand Native Americans and six hundred
settlers were killed, and numerous towns and burgeoning economies
were destroyed during King Philip’s War. In the midst of the carnage,
William Edmundson, who had founded Quakerism in Ireland, arrived
in Rhode Island, reeling from his failure to convert enslaved Africans
in Barbados. When his failures continued in Rhode Island, he began
to understand that slavery was holding back his missions, and he told
slave-owning Quakers as much in a letter in 1676. Edmundson had an
assimilationist vision, a vision to “restrain and reclaim” African people
from “their accustomed filthy, unclean practices” in defiling each other.
Quakers’ “self-denial” of human property could “be known to all.”
52 tamped from the Beginning
Abolitionist ideas blossomed again a dozen years later among the
Mennonite and Quaker founders of Germantown in Philadelphia, this
time, without Edmundson’s assimilationist ideas. Mennonites were an
Anabaptist denomination born out of the Protestant Reformation in
the German- and Dutch-speaking areas of Central Europe. During
the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, orthodox authorities
lethally persecuted the Mennonites. The Mennonites did not intend
to leave behind one site of oppression to build another in America.
Mennonites therefore circulated an antislavery petition on April
18, 1688. “There is a saying, that we shall doe to all men like as we
will be done ourselves; making no difference of what generation,
descent or colour they are,” they wrote. “In Europe there are many
oppressed” for their religion, and “here those are oppressed” for their
“black colour.” Both oppressions were wrong. Actually, as an oppres-
sor, America “surpass[ed] Holland and Germany.” Africans had the
“right to fight for their freedom.”
The 1688 Germantown Petition Against Slavery was the inaugural
antiracist tract among European settlers in colonial America. Begin-
ning with this piece, the Golden Rule would forever inspire the cause
of White antiracists. Antiracists of all races—whether out of altruism
or intelligent self-interest—would always recognize that preserving
racial hierarchy simultaneously preserves ethnic, gender, class, sexual,
age, and religious hierarchies. Human hierarchies of any kind, they
understood, would do little more than oppress all of humanity.
But powerful slaveholding Philadelphia Quakers killed the Ger-
mantown petition out of economic self-interest. William Edmundson
had likewise suffered for promoting antislavery arguments a dozen
years earlier. Slaveholding Quakers across New England had banished
Edmundson from their meetings. The elderly founder of the Ameri-
can Baptist Church, Rhode Island’s Roger Williams, called Edmundson
“nothing but a bundle of ignorance.” Not many New Englanders read
Edmundson’s letter to slaveholding Quakers, and not many noticed its
significance. Everyone was focused on King Philip’s War.7
In early August 1676, Increase Mather—the theological scion of
New England with his father dead—implored God from sunup to
aving ouls, ot Bodies 53

sundown to cut down King Philip, or Metacomet, the Native Amer-
ican war leader. The conflict had been worsening for a little over a
year, and the Puritans had lost homes and dozens of soldiers. Less than
a week after Mather’s prayer campaign, Metacomet was killed, more
or less ending the war. Puritans cut up his body as if it were a hog’s.
A nearly fourteen-year-old Cotton Mather detached Metacomet’s
jaw from his skull. Puritans then paraded the king’s remains around
Down in Virginia, Governor George Berkeley was trying to avoid
a totally different war with neighboring Native Americans, in part to
avoid disrupting his profitable fur trade. Twenty-nine-year-old fron-
tier planter Nathaniel Bacon had other plans. The racial laws passed
in the 1660s had done little to diminish class conflict. Around April
1676, Bacon mobilized a force of frontier White laborers to redirect
their anger from elite Whites to Susquehannocks. Bacon’s mind game
worked. “Since my being with the volunteers, the discourse and ear-
nestness of the people is against the Indians,” Bacon wrote to Berkeley
in triumph. Berkeley charged Bacon with treason, more worried about
armed landless Whites—the “Rabble Crew”—than the Susquehan-
nocks and nearby Occaneechees. But Bacon was not so easily stopped.
By summer, the frontier war had quickly become a civil war—or to
some, a class war—with Bacon and his supporters rebelling against
Berkeley, and Berkeley hiring a militia of mercenaries.
By September 1676, a defiant Bacon had “proclaimed liberty to
all Servants and Negroes.” For Governor Berkeley’s wealthy White
inner circle, poor Whites and enslaved Blacks joining hands presaged
the apocalypse. At the head of five hundred men, Bacon burned down
Jamestown, forcing Berkeley to flee. When Bacon died of dysentery in
October, the rebellion was doomed. Luring Whites with pardons and
Blacks with liberty, Berkeley’s forces persuaded most of Bacon’s army
to lay down their weapons. They spent the next few years crushing
the rest of the rebels.
Rich planters learned from Bacon’s Rebellion that poor Whites
had to be forever separated from enslaved Blacks. They divided and
conquered by creating more White privileges. In 1680, legislators
54 tamped from the Beginning
pardoned only the White rebels; they prescribed thirty lashes for any
slave who lifted a hand “against any Christian” (Christian now meant
White). All Whites now wielded absolute power to abuse any African
person. By the early eighteenth century, every Virginia county had
a militia of landless Whites “ready in case of any sudden eruption of
Indians or insurrection of Negroes.” Poor Whites had risen into their
lowly place in slave society—the armed defenders of planters—a place
that would sow bitter animosity between them and enslaved Africans.9

COTTON MATHER WAS in college when he detached Metacomet’s jaw

from his skull and heard about Bacon’s Rebellion. Back in the sum-
mer of 1674, Increase Mather crossed the Charles River to present an
eleven-year-old Cotton Mather for admission as the youngest student
in Harvard’s history. He was already well known in New England as
an intellectual prodigy—or, from the Puritans’ standpoint, the chosen
one. Cotton Mather was fluent in Latin, running through fifteen chap-
ters of the Bible a day, and as pious as boys came.10
Smaller than a sixth-grade pupil, when Cotton Mather walked
onto the tiny campus he was like a self-righteous politician entering a
corrupted Congress. The dozen or so fifteen- to eighteen-year-olds
schemed to break the eleven-year-old’s moral backbone until Increase
Mather complained about the hazing. The teenagers stopped prodding
him to sin, but sin still bedeviled him. Sin was like the shadow he could
never shake. The most trivial incident could explode into anxiety. One
day, his tooth ached. “Have I not sinned with my Teeth?” his mind raced.
“How? By sinful, graceless excessive Eating. And by evil Speeches.” Cot-
ton Mather had started stuttering, and the incessant self-searching and
the burden of trying to live up to his two famous names may have wors-
ened his condition. For the young minister-in-training, the soul-search-
ing setback caused him to turn to his ink and quill.11
Insecure in speech, Cotton Mather seemed to be a different per-
son as a writer—confident, brilliant, and artistic. His father allowed
him to write up many important church and government documents.
Cotton ended up writing 7,000 pages of sermons in his notebooks
aving ouls, ot Bodies 55

between the ages of thirteen and thirty-two, far and away more ser-
monic pages than any other American Puritan. And his diary from
1681 to 1725 is the lengthiest available of any American Puritan.12
Cotton Mather had been encouraged by his anxious but reassuring
father. Sooner or later, Cotton steeled his determination to find a way
around the mighty rock. The youngster incessantly practiced away his
stammer by singing psalms and speaking slowly, and by the end of his
Harvard days he had learned to control it. He was delivered.
Cotton Mather cruised to the annual Boston Commencement
Day in 1678. Harvard president Urian Oakes called him to receive his
degree. “What a name!” Oakes smiled. “I made a mistake, I confess; I
should have said, what names!”13

THE FIFTEEN-YEAR-OLD COTTON MATHER graduated into a British world

that was developing more and more sophisticated racist ideas to ratio-
nalize African slavery. English scientists and colonizers seemed to
be trading theories. Around 1677, Royal Society economist William
Petty drafted a hierarchical “Scale” of humanity, locating the “Guinea
Negroes” at the bottom. Middle Europeans, he wrote, differed from
Africans “in their natural manners, and in the internal qualities of their
minds.” In 1679, the British Board of Trade approved Barbados’s bru-
tally racist slave codes, which were securing the investments of traders
and planters, and then produced a racist idea to justify the approval:
Africans were “a brutish sort of People.”14
In 1683, Increase and Cotton Mather founded colonial America’s
first formal intellectual group, the Boston Philosophical Society. Mod-
eled after London’s Royal Society, the Boston Society lasted only four
years. The Mathers never published a journal, but if they had, they
might have modeled it after the Royal Society’s Philosophical Transac-
tions, or the Journal des Sçavans in Paris. These were the organs of West-
ern Europe’s scientific revolution, and new ideas on race were a part
of that revolution. French physician and travel writer François Bernier,
a friend of John Locke’s, anonymously crafted a “new division of the
earth” in the French journal in 1684.15
56 tamped from the Beginning
Through this essay, Bernier became the first popular classifier of
all humans into races, which he differentiated fundamentally by their
phenotypic characteristics. To Bernier, there existed “four or five Spe-
cies or Races of men so notably differing from each other that this
may serve as the just foundation of a new division of the world.” As a
monogenesist, he held that “all men are descended from one individ-
ual.” He distinguished four races: the “first” race, which included Euro-
peans, were the original humans; then there were the Africans, the
East Asians, and the “quite frightful” people of northern Finland, “the
Lapps.” Bernier gave future taxonomists some revisionist work to do
when he lumped with Europeans in the “first” race the people of North
Africa, the Middle East, India, the Americas, and Southeast Asia.
The notion of Europeans—save the Lapps—as being in the “first”
race was part of Western thought almost from the beginning of racist
ideas. It sat in the conceptual core of climate theory: Africans dark-
ened by the sun could return to their original White complexion by
living in cooler Europe. In advancing White originality and normality,
Bernier positioned the “first” race as the “yardstick against which the
others are measured,” as historian Siep Stuurman later explained. Ber-
nier simultaneously veiled and normalized, screened and standardized
White people—and he eroticized African women. “Those cherry-red
lips, those ivory teeth, those large lively eyes . . . that bosom and the
rest,” Bernier marveled. “I dare say there is no more delightful specta-
cle in the world.”
It was a subtle contradiction—the diminution of Black people’s
total (as racial) humanity in the midst of the elevation of their sex-
ual humanity, a contradiction inherent in much of anti-Black racism.
Bernier valued rationality, using it as a yardstick of superiority, irre-
spective of physicality. Superior physicality related Africans to those
creatures containing the utmost physical prowess—animals. François
Bernier posed the notion of two human souls: one hereditary, sensi-
tive, nonrational, and animal-like; the other God-given, spiritual, and
rational. “Those who excel in the powers of the mind  .  .  . [should]
command those who only excel in brute force,” Bernier concluded,
“just as the soul governs the body, and man rules animals.”16
aving ouls, ot Bodies 57

IT IS UNCLEAR whether Cotton Mather read Bernier’s “new division
of the earth.” Next to his father, he was more likely than any other
English-speaking New Englander to know a little French and read the
Journal des Sçavans. In the years after his graduation, he amassed one
of the largest libraries in New England. But the late 1670s and 1680s
were a tense time for New England elites. It was difficult to maintain
the peace of mind for leisurely reading.
In 1676, English colonial administrator Edward Randolph had
journeyed to New England, and he had seen the devastation wrought
by King Philip’s War. Randolph, an advocate of stern royal control,
informed King Charles II of New England’s vulnerability and sug-
gested that the time had come to snatch the royally appointed chair
of autonomy for Massachusetts—the precious charter of 1629—out of
colonial hands. In the coming years, while Cotton Mather finished col-
lege and prepared for the pulpit, Randolph journeyed back and forth
over the Atlantic Ocean. Every trip stirred new rumors of the charter
being pulled and a new round of debates on whether to submit, com-
promise, or defy the king. Some New Englanders were furious at the
prospect of losing local rule. “God forbid, that I should give away the
Inheritance of my Fathers,” stormed Increase Mather at a town meet-
ing in January 1684.
A year after Cotton Mather became co-pastor with his father of
Boston’s North Church, Randolph returned holding the royal revoca-
tion of the charter and the installation of a royal governor, Sir Edmund
Andros. Much of New England despondently submitted on May 14,
1686. Not Increase Mather, the newly installed head of Harvard. By
May 1688, he was in England lobbying the successor to Charles II,
James II, who offered religious liberty to Catholics and nonconform-
ists. But during the “Glorious Revolution” later in the year, James II
was overthrown by William, the Dutch prince, and James’s daughter,
Mary. New Englanders did not sit by idly. In 1689, they raised the
baton of revolt.

Black Hunts
ON THE EVENING of April 17, 1689, the twenty-six-year-old Cotton
Mather probably held a meeting at his house. These elite merchants
and ministers plotted to seize the captain of the royal warship guard-
ing Boston Harbor, arrest royalists, and compel the surrender of the
royalist contingent on Fort Hill. They hoped to control and contain
the revolt, avoid the bloodshed, and await instructions from England,
where Increase Mather held his lobbying post before William and
Mary. They did not want a revolution. They merely wanted their
royally backed local power reestablished. But “if the Country people,
by any unrestrainable Violences,” pushed toward revolution, Cotton
Mather explained, then to pacify the “ungoverned Mobile” they would
present a Declaration of Gentleman and Merchants.
The next morning, conspirators seized the warship captain
as planned. News of the seizure initiated rebellious seizures all
over Boston, as the elite plotters feared would occur. A convulsed
working-class crowd gathered at the Town House in the center of
town, “driving and furious,” avid for royal blood and independence.
Mather rushed to the Town House. At noon, he probably read from
the gallery a Declaration of Gentleman and Merchants to the revolution-
aries. Mather’s calm, assuring, ministerial voice “reasoned down the
Passions of the Populace,” according to family lore. By nightfall, Sir
Edmund Andros, Edward Randolph, and other known royalists had
been arrested, and Puritan merchants and preachers once again ruled
New England.1

Bla k unts 59

The populace remained unruly, however, over the next few weeks.
Cotton Mather was tapped to preach at a May convention called to
settle the various demands for independence, military rule, or the old
charter. He did not see democracy in the different demands; he saw
pandemonium. “I am old enough to cry Peace! And in the Name of God
I do it,” he preached at the convention. The next day, town representa-
tives voted to return to the old charter and reappoint the old governor,
Simon Bradstreet. Peace, or the old social order of the populace sub-
mitting to the ministers and merchants, did not reappear, as Mather
had wished. Nearly everyone knew the Bradstreet government was
unofficial, as it had not received royal backing. When the king recalled
Andros, Randolph, and other royalists in July 1689, it did not calm the
masses. “All confusion is here,” one New Englander reported. “Every
man is a Governor,” another testified.2


Mather—resembled another declaration by another prominent intel-
lectual down in Virginia a century later. In the sixth article (of twelve),
the writer declared, “The people of New England were all slaves and the
only difference between them and slaves is their not being bought
and sold.” In unifying New Englanders, Mather tried to redirect the
resistance of commoners from local elites to British masters. And in
actuality, Mather saw more differences between Puritans and slaves, if
his other published words in 1689 were any indication, than between
local New Englanders and their British masters. In the collection of
sermons Small Offers Toward the Service of the Tabernacle in the Wilderness,
Mather first shared his racial views, calling the Puritan colonists “the
English Israel”—a chosen people. Puritans must religiously instruct all
slaves and children, the “inferiors,” Mather pleaded. But masters were
not doing their job of looking after African souls, “which are as white
and good as those of other Nations, but are Destroyed for lack of
Knowledge.” Cotton Mather had built on Richard Baxter’s theological
race concept. The souls of African people were equal to those of the
Puritans: they were White and good.3
60 tamped from the Beginning
Mather wrote of all humans having a White soul the same year John
Locke declared all unblemished minds to be White. Robert Boyle and
Isaac Newton had already popularized light as White. Michelangelo
had already painted the original Adam and God as both being White
in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel. And for all these White men, White-
ness symbolized beauty, a trope taken up by one of the first popular
novels by an English woman.
Published in 1688, Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko: or, The Royal Slave, was
the first English novel to repeatedly use terms like “White Men,”
“White People,” and “Negro.” Set in the Dutch South American col-
ony of Surinam, Oroonoko is the story of the enslavement and resis-
tance of a young English woman and her husband, Oroonoko, an
African prince. Oroonoko’s “beautiful, agreeable and handsome”
physical features looked more European than African (“His nose was
rising and Roman, instead of African and flat”), and his behavior was
“more civilized, according to the European Mode, than any other had
been.” Behn framed Oroonoko as a heroic “noble savage,” superior to
Europeans in his ignorance, in his innocence, in his harmlessness, and
in his capacity for learning from Europeans. And in true assimilationist
fashion, one of the characters insists, “A Negro can change colour; for I
have seen ’em as frequently blush and look pale, and that as visibly as
I ever saw in the most beautiful White.”4

RICHARD BAXTER ENDORSED the London edition of Cotton Mather’s

other 1689 publication, his first book-length work, which became
a best seller: Memorable Providences, Relating to Witchcrafts and Posses-
sions. Baxter rejoiced, having influenced the young Mather, as some-
one “likely to prove so great a Master Building in the Lords Work.”
Mather’s treatise, outlining the symptoms of witchcraft, reflected
his crusade against the enemies of White souls. He could not stop
preaching about the existence of the Devil and witches. Or perhaps
the restlessness of the commoners in the aftermath of the 1689 revolt
triggered the real obsession in Cotton Mather. The revolt, indeed,
had fueled public strife against not only the faraway British king
Bla k unts 61

but also Puritan rulers of Mather’s stature. Maybe Mather was con-
sciously attempting to redirect the public’s anger away from elites
and toward invisible demons. He did regularly preach that anyone
and anything that criticized his English Israel must be led by the
Devil. Long before egalitarian rebels in America started to be cast off
as extremists, criminals, radicals, outsiders, communists, or terrorists,
Mather’s community of ministers ostracized egalitarian rebels as dev-
ils and witches.5
“How many doleful Wretches, have been decoy’d into Witch-
craft,” Cotton Mather asked in 1691. His father, Increase, preached a
lengthy series on devils in 1693 after returning from England with the
new Massachusetts charter. Samuel Parris, a Salem minister, preached
endlessly about the devils in their midst. And on one dismal day in
February 1692, Parris anxiously watched his nine-year-old daughter
and eleven-year-old niece suffer chokes, convulsions, and pinches. As
their condition worsened each day, the minister’s worsened, too. It
dawned on Parris: the girls had been bewitched.6
While prayers rose up like kites in Salem and nearby towns, the
Salem witch hunt began. The number of afflicted and accused spread
over the next few months, swelling the public uproar and turning
public attention from political to religious strife. And in nearly every
instance, the Devil who was preying upon innocent White Puritans
was described as Black. One Puritan accuser described the Devil as “a
little black bearded man”; another saw “a black thing of a considerable
bigness.” A Black thing jumped in one man’s window. “The body was
like that of a Monkey,” the observer added. “The Feet like a Cocks, but
the Face much like a man’s.” Since the Devil represented criminality,
and since criminals in New England were said to be the Devil’s oper-
atives, the Salem witch hunt ascribed a Black face to criminality—an
ascription that remains to this day.7
Cotton Mather’s friends were appointed judges, including mer-
chant John Richards, who had just officiated at Mather’s wedding. In a
letter to Richards on May 31, 1692, Mather expressed his support for
capital punishment. The Richards court executed Bridget Bishop on
June 10, the first of more than twenty accused witches to die.8
62 tamped from the Beginning
The accused up north in Andover, Massachusetts, confessed that
the Black Devil man compelled them to renounce their baptism and
sign his book. They rode poles to meetings where as many as five hun-
dred witches plotted to destroy New England, the accused confessed.
Hearing about this, Cotton Mather sniffed out a “Hellish Design of
Bewitching and Ruining our Land.” Mather ventured to Salem for the
first time to witness the executions on August 19, 1692. He came to
see the killing of George Burroughs, the supposed general of the Black
Devil’s New England army of witches. Burroughs preached Anabaptist
ideas of religious equality on the northern frontier, the kind of ideas
that had bred antiracism in Germantown. Mather watched Burroughs
plead his innocence at the execution site, and stir the “very great num-
ber” of spectators when he recited the Lord’s Prayer, something the
judges said witches could not do.9
“The black Man stood and dictated to him!” Burroughs’s accuser
shouted, trying and failing to calm the crowd. Mather heard the tick-
ing time bomb of the spectators, sounding like the unruly masses
during the 1689 revolt. As soon as Burroughs was hanged, Mather
sought to quell the passions of the crowd by re-inscribing the execu-
tive policies of his ruling class into God’s law. Remember, he preached,
the Devil often transformed himself into an Angel of Light. Mather
clearly believed in the power of religious (and racial) transformation,
from Black devils to White angels, with good or bad intentions.
The fervor over witches soon died down. But even after Massachu-
setts authorities apologized, reversed the convictions, and provided rep-
arations in the early 1700s, Mather never stopped defending the Salem
witch trials, because he never stopped defending the religious, class,
slaveholding, gender, and racial hierarchies reinforced by the trials.
These hierarchies benefited elites like him, or, as he continued to preach,
they were in accord with the law of God. And Cotton Mather viewed
himself—or presented himself—as the defender of God’s law, the cru-
cifier of any non-Puritan, African, Native American, poor person, or
woman who defied God’s law by not following the rules of submission.10
Sometime after the witch trials, maybe to save their Black faces
from accusations of devilishness and criminality, a group of enslaved
Bla k unts 63

Africans formed a “Religious Society of Negroes” in Boston. It was one
of the first known organizations of African people in colonial America.
In 1693, Cotton Mather drew up the society’s list of rules, prefaced
by a covenant: “Wee, the miserable children of Adam and Noah  .  .  .
freely resolve . . . to become the Servants of that Glorious Lord.” Two
of Mather’s rules were instructive: members were to be counseled by
someone “wise and of English” descent, and they were not to “afford”
any “Shelter” to anyone who had “Run away from their Masters.” Meet-
ing weekly, some members of the society probably delighted in hear-
ing Mather cast their souls as White. Some probably rejected these
racist ideas and used the society to mobilize against enslavement. The
Religious Society of Negroes did not last. Few Africans wanted to be
Christians at that time (though that would change in a few decades).
And not many masters were willing to let their captives become Chris-
tians because, unlike in other colonies, there was no Massachusetts law
stipulating that baptized slaves did not have to be freed.11
Throughout the social tumult of the 1690s, Mather obsessed over
maintaining the social hierarchies by convincing the lowly that God
and nature had put them there, whether it applied to women, children,
enslaved Africans, or poor people. In A Good Master Well Served (1696),
he presumed that nature had created “a conjugal society” between hus-
band and wife; a “Parental Society” between parent and child; and,
“lowest of all,” a “herile society” between master and servant. Soci-
ety, he said, became destabilized when children, women, and servants
refused to accept their station. Mather compared egalitarian resisters
to that old ambitious Devil, who wanted to become the all-powerful
God. This line of thinking became Mather’s everlasting justification
of social hierarchy: the ambitious lowly resembled Satan; his kind of
elites resembled God.
“You are better fed & better clothed, & better managed by far, than
you would be, if you were your own men,” Mather informed enslaved
Africans in A Good Master Well Served. His insistence that urbane American
slavery was better than barbaric African freedom was not unlike Gomes
Eanes de Zurara’s estimation that Africans were better off as slaves in
Portugal than they had been in Africa. Do not partake in evil and “make
64 tamped from the Beginning
yourself infinitely Blacker than you are all ready,” Mather warned. By
obeying, your “souls will be washed ‘White in the blood of the lamb.’”
If you fail to be “orderly servants,” then you shall forever welter “under
intolerable blows and wounds” from the Devil, “your overseer.” In sum,
Mather offered enslaved Africans two options: righteous assimilated
Whiteness and slavery to God and God’s minions, or segregated crimi-
nal Blackness and slavery to the Devil and the Devil’s minions.12
Mather’s writings on slavery spread throughout the colonies, influ-
encing enslavers from Boston to Virginia. By the eighteenth century,
he had published more books than any other American, and his native
Boston had become colonial America’s booming intellectual center.
Boston was now on the periphery of a booming slave society centered
in the tidewater region of Maryland, Virginia, and northeastern Caro-
lina. The Mid-Atlantic’s moderate climate, fertile land, and waterways
for transportation were ideal for the raising of tobacco, and lots of
it. Fulfilling the voracious European demand, tobacco exports from
this region skyrocketed from 20,000 pounds in 1619 to 38 million in
1700. The imports of captives (and racist ideas) soared with tobacco
exports. In the 1680s, enslaved Africans eclipsed White servants as
the principal labor force. In 1698, the crown ended the Royal African
Company’s monopoly and opened the slave trade. Purchasing enslaved
Africans became the investment craze.13
The economic craze did not yield a religious craze, though.
Planters still shied away from converting enslaved Africans, ignor-
ing Mather’s arguments. One lady inquired, “Is it possible that any
of my slaves should go to heaven, and must I see them there?” Chris-
tian knowledge, one planter complained, “would be a means to make
the slave more . . . [apt] to wickedness.” Cotton Mather’s counterpart
in Virginia, Scottish minister James Blair, tried to induce planters to
realize the submission wrought by Christianity. The 1689 appoint-
ment of the thirty-three-year-old Blair as commissary of Virginia—the
highest-ranking religious leader—reflected King William and Queen
Mary’s new interest in the empire’s most populous colony. Blair used
profits from slave labor to found the College of William & Mary in
1693, the colonies’ second college.14
Bla k unts 65

In 1699, Blair presented to the Virginia House of Burgesses “a
Proposition for encouraging the Christian Education of Indians,
Negroes, and Mulatto Children.” Lawmakers responded, rather inac-
curately, that the “negroes born in this country are generally baptised
and brought up in the Christian religion.” As for imported Africans,
lawmakers announced, “the gross bestiality and rudeness of their man-
ners, the variety and strangeness of their languages, and the weak-
ness and shallowness of their minds, render it in a manner impossible
to make any progress in their conversion.” For the much more diffi-
cult commercial tasks, planters overcame the “strange” languages and
had no problem teaching these “shallow-minded rude beasts” in other
matters. Planters of impossibilities suddenly became planters of pos-
sibilities when instructing imported Africans on the complexities of
proslavery theory, racist ideas, tobacco production, skilled trades,
domestic work, and plantation management.15
As Maryland’s commissary, the Oxford-educated Thomas Bray did
not fare much better than Blair in converting Blacks during his tour of
Maryland in 1700. Returning to London distressed in 1701, he orga-
nized the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts
(SPG). King William approved, and an all-star cast of ministers signed
up to become founding members of the Church of England’s first
systematic effort to spread its views in the colonies. Cotton Mather
did not sign up for SPG, distrustful of Anglicans on every level. Even
though Mather started mocking “the Society for the Molestation of
the Gospel in foreign parts,” he remained in solidarity with Anglican
SPG missionaries—and Quaker missionaries—in trying to persuade
resistant enslavers to Christianize resistant Africans. Persuading plant-
ers was extremely difficult. Then again, persuading them to Christian-
ize their captives was much easier than what Mather’s friend tried to
persuade them to do in 1700.16

Great Awakening
THE NEW CENTURY brought on the first major public debate over slavery
in colonial America. New England businessman John Saffin refused to
free his Black indentured servant named Adam after Adam served his
contracted term of seven years. When Boston judge Samuel Sewall
learned of Saffin’s decision essentially to enslave Adam for the fore-
seeable future, Sewall was livid. Well known as one of the first Salem
witch trial judges to publicly apologize, Sewall courageously took
another public stand when he released The Selling of Joseph on June 24,
1700. “Originally, and Naturally, there is no such thing as Slavery,”
Sewall wrote. He shot down popular proslavery justifications, such as
curse theory, the notion that the “good” end of Christianity justified
the “evil” means of slavery, and John Locke’s just war theory. Sewall
rejected these proslavery theories from the quicksand of another kind
of racism. New Englanders should rid themselves of slavery and Afri-
can people, Sewall maintained. African people “seldom use their free-
dom well,” he said. They can never live “with us, and grow up into
orderly Families.”1
Samuel Sewall could not be easily cast aside like those powerless
Germantown petitioners. A close friend of Cotton Mather, Sewall had
received an audience with the king in England, and he had served as
judge on the highest court in Boston. He was on track to becoming
the Puritans’ chief justice in 1717. When Sewall judged slavery to be
bad, he should have opened the minds of many. But proslavery racism
had almost always been a close-minded affair. In place of open minds,

reat wakening 67

closed-minded “Frowns and hard Words” bombarded the forty-six-
year-old jurist.
John Saffin, in particular, was maddened by Sewall’s attack on his
business dealings. A judge himself, Saffin refused to disqualify himself
from adjuring a freedom case for Adam. At seventy-five years old in
1701, his lifetime in the trenches of early American capitalism had nur-
tured his outlook on powerful people. “Friendship & Munificence are
Strangers in this world,” Saffin once opined. “Interest and profit are the
Principles by [which] all are Sway’d.” No one attacked Saffin, called
him “manstealer,” and got away with it.2
Before the end of 1701, John Saffin had printed A Brief and Candid
Answer, to a Late Printed Sheet, Entitled, The Selling of Joseph. “God hath set
different Orders and Degrees of Men in the World,” Saffin declared.
No matter what Sewall said, it was not an “Evil thing to bring [Africans]
out of their own Heathenish Country” and convert them. Saffin, well
known among literary historians as a leading seventeenth-century poet,
ended his pamphlet in verse with “The Negroes Character”: “Cowardly
and cruel are those Blacks Innate, Prone to Revenge, Imp of inveterate hate.”3
Samuel Sewall won the battle—Adam was freed in 1703 after a
long and bitter trial—but he lost the war. America did not rid itself
of slavery or of Black people. In the newspaper debate that trailed the
Sewall-Saffin dispute, Bostonians seemingly found Saffin’s segregation-
ist ideas more persuasive than Sewall’s. Sewall did get in the last volley
in his lost war, prompted by the London Athenian Society questioning
whether the slave trade was “contrary to the great law of Christianity.”
Sewall answered affirmatively in a fourteen-page pamphlet in 1705.
He pointed out that the so-called just wars between Africans were
actually instigated by European slave-traders drumming up demand
for captives.4
Meanwhile, the enslaved population continued to rise noticeably,
which led to fears of revolts and then, in 1705, new racist codes to
prevent revolts and secure human property up and down the Atlan-
tic Coast. Massachusetts authorities forbade interracial relationships,
began taxing imported captives, and, over Samuel Sewall’s objections,
rated Indians and Negroes with horses and hogs during a revision
68 tamped from the Beginning
of the tax code. Virginia lawmakers made slave patrols compulsory
for non-slaveholding Whites; these groups of White citizens were
charged with policing slaves, enforcing discipline, and guarding routes
of escape. The Virginia legislature also denied Blacks the ability to
hold office. Evoking repeatedly the term “christian white servant” and
defining their rights, Virginia lawmakers fully married Whiteness and
Christianity, uniting rich White enslavers and the non-slaveholding
White poor. To seal the unity (and racial loyalty), Virginia’s White
lawmakers seized and sold all property owned by “any slave,” the
“profit thereof applied to the use of the poor of the said parish.” The
story would be told many times in American history: Black property
legally or illegally seized; the resulting Black destitution blamed on
Black inferiority; the past discrimination ignored when the blame was
assigned. Virginia’s 1705 code mandated that planters provide freed
White servants with fifty acres of land. The resulting White prosper-
ity was then attributed to White superiority.5

ON MARCH 1, 1706, Cotton Mather asked God whether, if he “[wrote] an

Essay, about the Christianity of our Negro and other Slaves,” God would
bless him with “Good Servants.” Mather hoped a pamphlet focusing
exclusively on this topic would help to shift the minds of enslavers
who refused to baptize their captives. By now, he was unquestionably
America’s foremost minister and intellectual, having just published his
New England history, a toast of American exceptionalism, Magnalia
Christi Americana, regarded as the greatest literary achievement of New
England’s first century.6
Mather released The Negro Christianized in June 1706. The “Provi-
dence of God” sent Africans into slavery and over to Christian Amer-
ica to have the capacity to learn from their masters the “Glorious
Gospel.” They “are Men, and not Beasts,” Mather stressed, opposing
segregationists. “Indeed their Stupidity is a Discouragement. It may
seem, unto as little purpose, to Teach, as to wash” Africans. “But the
greater their Stupidity, the greater must be our Application,” he pro-
claimed. Don’t worry about baptism leading to freedom. The “Law of
reat wakening 69

Christianity . . . allows Slavery,” he resolved. He cited the writings of
other Puritan theologians as well as St. Paul.7
On December 13, 1706, Mather believed wholeheartedly that
God had rewarded him for writing The Negro Christianized. Members
of Mather’s church—“without any Application of mine to them for
such a Thing”—spent forty or fifty pounds on “a very likely Slave,”
he happily noted in his diary. New England churches routinely gifted
captives to ministers. Mather named “it” Onesimus, after St. Paul’s
adopted son, a converted runaway. Mather kept a close racist eye on
Onesimus, constantly suspecting him of thievery.8
Mather’s Christian slavery views were more representative in
New England than Samuel Sewall’s or John Saffin’s ideas. But Samuel
Sewall’s views continued to echo in the writings of others. In 1706,
John Campbell’s first full-fledged essay in his Boston News-Letter, the
second newspaper in colonial America, urged the importation of more
White servants to reduce the colony’s dependence on enslaved Afri-
cans, who were “much addicted to Stealing, Lying and Purloning.”
Americans reading early colonial newspapers learned two recurring
lessons about Black people: they could be bought like cattle, and they
were dangerous criminals like those witches.
From their arrival around 1619, African people had illegally
resisted legal slavery. They had thus been stamped from the begin-
ning as criminals. In all of the fifty suspected or actual slave revolts
reported in newspapers during the American colonial era, resisting
Africans were nearly always cast as violent criminals, not people react-
ing to enslavers’ regular brutality, or pressing for the most basic human
desire: freedom.9
As the sun fired up the sky on April 7, 1712, about thirty enslaved
Africans and two Native Americans set fire to a New York building,
ambushing the “Christians” who came to put it out, as the story was
told. Nine “Christians” were slayed, five or six seriously wounded. The
freedom fighters ran off into the nearby woods. Fear and revenge smol-
dered through the city. Within twenty-four hours, six of the rebels had
committed suicide (believing they would return to Africa in death);
the rest were “hunted out” by soldiers and publicly executed, mostly
70 tamped from the Beginning
burned alive. New York colonial governor Robert Hunter, who super-
vised the hunt, the trials, and the executions, was a member of Thomas
Bray’s Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts and
the Royal Society. He framed the slave revolt a “barbarous attempt of
some of their slaves.” No matter what African people did, they were
barbaric beasts or brutalized like beasts. If they did not clamor for free-
dom, then their obedience showed they were naturally beasts of bur-
den. If they nonviolently resisted enslavement, they were brutalized. If
they killed for their freedom, they were barbaric murderers.
Their “barbarism” occasioned a “severe” slave code, resembling the
laws passed by the Virginians and Puritans in 1705. New York lawmak-
ers stripped free Blacks of the right to own property, and then they
denigrated “the free negroes of the colony” as an “idle, slothful people”
who weighed on the “public charge.”10

IN THE MIDST of relentless African resistance and increasingly vocal

antislavery Quakers, British slave-traders were still doing quite well,
and they were primed for growth. In 1713, England won the Assiento,
the privilege of supplying captives to all those Spanish American col-
onies, allowing it to soon become the eighteenth century’s greatest
slave-trader, following in the footsteps of France, Holland, and the
pioneers in Portugal. New England had become the main entryway
into the colonies for European and Caribbean goods. Ships setting out
from the colonies, mostly from Boston and Newport, Rhode Island,
carried the food that fed the British Caribbean’s planters, overseers,
and laborers. Ships returned hauling sugar, rum, captives, and molas-
ses, all supplying New England’s largest manufacturing industry before
the American Revolution—liquor.11
Boston’s status as one of the key ports in the colonies left the city
vulnerable to disease. On April 21, 1721, the HMS Seahorse sailed into
Boston Harbor from Barbados. A month later, Cotton Mather logged
in his journal, “The grievous calamity of the smallpox has now entered
the town.” One thousand Bostonians, nearly 10 percent of the town,
fled to the countryside to escape the judgment of the Almighty.12
reat wakening 71

Fifteen years prior, Mather had asked Onesimus one of the stan-
dard questions that Boston slaveholders asked new house slaves—Have
you had smallpox? “Yes and no,” Onesimus answered. He explained
how in Africa before his enslavement, a tiny amount of pus from a
smallpox victim had been scraped into his skin with a thorn, following
a practice hundreds of years old that resulted in building up healthy
recipients’ immunities to the disease. This form of inoculation—a pre-
cursor to modern vaccination—was an innovative practice that pre-
vented untold numbers of deaths in West Africa and on disease-ridden
slave ships to ports throughout the Atlantic. Racist European scientists
at first refused to recognize that African physicians could have made
such advances. Indeed, it would take several decades and many more
deaths before British physician Edward Jenner, the so-called father of
immunology, validated inoculation.
Cotton Mather, however, became an early believer when he read
an essay on inoculation in the Royal Society’s Philosophical Transac-
tions in 1714. He then interviewed Africans around Boston to be sure.
Sharing their inoculation stories, they gave him a window into the
intellectual culture of West Africa. He had trouble grasping it, instead
complaining about how “brokenly and blunderingly and like Idiots
they tell the Story.”13
On June 6, 1721, Mather calmly composed an “Address to the
Physicians of Boston,” respectfully requesting that they consider inoc-
ulation. If anyone had the credibility to suggest something so new in
a time of peril it was Cotton Mather, the first American-born fellow
in London’s Royal Society, which was still headed by Isaac Newton.
Mather had released fifteen to twenty books and pamphlets a year
since the 1690s, and he was nearing his mammoth career total of
388—probably more than the rest of his entire generation of New
England ministers combined.14
The only doctor who responded to Mather was Zabadiel Boyl-
ston, President John Adams’s great-uncle. When Boylston announced
his successful inoculation of his six-year-old son and two enslaved
Africans on July 15, 1721, area doctors and councilmen were horrified.
It made no sense that people should inject themselves with a disease
72 tamped from the Beginning
to save themselves from the disease. Boston’s only holder of a medical
degree, a physician pressing to maintain his professional legitimacy,
fanned the city’s flames of fear. Dr. William Douglass concocted a
conspiracy theory, saying there was a grand plot afoot among African
people, who had agreed to kill their masters by convincing them to
be inoculated. “There is not a Race of Men on Earth more False Liars”
than Africans, Douglass barked.15
Anti-inoculators like Dr. Douglass found a friendly medium in one
of the colonies’ first independent newspapers, the New England Cou-
rant, launched by twenty-four-year-old James Franklin in 1721. James
Franklin’s fifteen-year-old indentured servant and younger brother,
Ben, worked as the typesetter for the newspaper. Feeling disrespected
by the Courant, Cotton Mather demanded intellectual obedience like a
tired college professor. The general public ignored him and withdrew.
Bostonians’ distaste for Mather and Boylston improved only when the
epidemic that killed 842 people finally ended in early 1722.16
As April 1722 approached, Ben Franklin decided he wanted to do
more than setting type for his brother’s newspaper. He started anon-
ymously penning letters with fascinating social advice, slipping them
under the print shop door for his brother to print in the Courant. Sign-
ing the letters Silence Dogood, Ben was inspired by Mather’s 1710
Bonifacius, or Essays to Do Good, on maintaining social order through
benevolence. The book “gave me such a turn of thinking, as to have
an influence on my conduct through life,” Benjamin Franklin later
explained to Mather’s son. After publishing sixteen popular letters,
Ben revealed the true identity of Silence Dogood to his jealous and
overbearing brother. James promptly censured Ben. By 1723, all the
ambitious Ben could think about was running away.17
Before fleeing to Philadelphia, Ben was summoned to a home on
Ship Street. He nervously knocked. A servant appeared and led him
to the study. Ben entered and beheld probably the largest library in
North America. Cotton Mather forgave Ben for the war of words, as a
father would a misbehaving child. No one knows what else the sixty-
year-old and seventeen-year-old discussed.
reat wakening 73

Ben Franklin may have noticed Cotton Mather’s melancholy.
Mather’s beloved father, then eighty-four, was ill. When Increase
Mather died in his oldest son’s arms on August 23, 1723, the trag-
edy topped off some weary years for Cotton Mather, who had weath-
ered marital disputes, financial problems, disagreements with Anglican
ministers, being passed over twice for the Harvard presidency, and
the news that Isaac Newton’s Royal Society would no longer publish his
work. Despite all his successes, Mather had begun to worry about his
intellectual legacy.
If Mather stayed abreast of current events in the colonies in the
1720s, then he had no reason to worry about his missionary legacy.
More fervently than any American voice since the 1680s, Mather had
urged slaveholders to baptize enslaved Africans, and enslaved Africans
to leave the religions of their ancestors. Moving slowly and carefully
uphill, he had made strides over the years. Like-minded Anglican mis-
sionaries, such as James Blair, Thomas Bray, and the agents of his Soci-
ety for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, had taken this
idea further. Whether he realized it or not, and whether he despised
the Anglican missionaries or not, Mather’s prayers finally began to be
answered during his final years.
Edmund Gibson, the distinguished Anglican bishop of London,
decided to eliminate any lingering doubt in planters as to whether they
could hold Christian captives. In two letters to Virginians in 1727, he
praised and authenticated the innovative statute of 1667 that denied
freedom to baptized captives. Gibson talked about how conversion
obligated captives to “the greatest Diligences and Fidelity,” an idea
that Mather had been stressing for years. The British crown and the
aides of Sir Robert Walpole, the first prime minister of Great Britain,
echoed the bishop. All of Britain’s religious, political, and economic
power now united to free missionaries and planters from having to
free the converted, thus reinvigorating proselytizing movements and
dooming calls for manumission.18
More and more enslavers began to listen to the arguments of mis-
sionaries that Christian submission could supplement their violence in
74 tamped from the Beginning
subduing African people. Actually, the ministers focused on the sub-
mission and were mum on the violence. Minister Hugh Jones, a Wil-
liam & Mary professor, published his highly influential Present State of
Virginia in 1724. “Christianity,” Jones wrote, “encourages and orders”
African people “to become more humble and better servants.” They
should not learn to read and write, though. They were “by Nature
cut out for hard Labour and Fatigue.” In his stunningly popular 1722
collection of sermons, James Blair proclaimed that the Golden Rule did
not suggest equality between “superiors and inferiors.” Order required
hierarchy. Hierarchy required responsibility. Masters, Blair preached,
were to baptize and treat their slaves kindly.19
Enslavers continued to become more open to these ideas right up
until the First Great Awakening, which swept through the colonies in
the 1730s, spearheaded by Connecticut native Jonathan Edwards. His
father, Timothy Edwards, had studied under Increase Mather at Har-
vard, and he knew and venerated Cotton Mather. During Edwards’s
junior year at Yale in 1718, Cotton Mather had secured the donation
from Welsh merchant Elihu Yale that had resulted in the name of
America’s third college (the Collegiate School) being changed.
Revivals at Edwards’s Massachusetts church in Northampton
jump-started the First Great Awakening around 1733. In awakening
souls, passionate evangelicals like Edwards spoke about human equal-
ity (in soul) and the capability of everyone for conversion. “I am God’s
servant as they are mine, and much more inferior to God than my
servant is to me,” the slaveholding Edwards explained in 1741. But
the proslavery Great Awakening did not extend to the South Caro-
lina plantation of Hugh Bryan, who was awakened into antislavery
thought. Bryan proclaimed “sundry enthusiastic Prophecies of the
Destruction of Charles Town and Deliverance of the Negroes from
servitude” in 1740. His praying captives stopped laboring. One woman
was overheard “singing a spiritual at the water’s edge,” like so many
other unidentified antiracist, antislavery Christian women and men
who started singing in those years. South Carolina authorities repri-
manded Bryan. They wanted evangelists preaching a racist Christian-
ity for submission, not an antiracist Christianity for liberation.20
reat wakening 75

Hugh Bryan was an exception in the missionary days of the First
Great Awakening, days Cotton Mather would not live to see. Though
bedridden, he was happy he lived to see his sixty-fifth birthday on
February 13, 1728. The next morning, Mather called his church’s new
pastor, Joshua Gee, into the room for prayer. Mather felt a release.
“Now I have nothing more to do here,” Mather told Gee. Hours later,
Cotton Mather was dead.21
“He was perhaps the principal Ornament of this Country, and the
greatest Scholar that was ever bred in it,” praised the New-England
Weekly Journal on February 19, 1728, the day of Mather’s burial. It
was an accurate eulogy for the grandson of John Cotton and Richard
Mather. Cotton Mather had indeed overtaken the names of his grand-
fathers, two ministerial giants bred in an intellectual world debating
whether Africa’s heat or Ham’s curse had produced the ugly apelike
African beasts who were benefiting from enslavement. If his grandfa-
thers consumed in England the racist idea of the African who can and
should be enslaved, then Cotton Mather led the way in producing the
racist idea of Christianity simultaneously subduing and uplifting the
enslaved African. He joined with the producers of racist ideas in other
colonial empires, from the mother countries in Europe, and normal-
ized and rationalized the expansion of colonialism and slavery. Euro-
peans were taking over and subduing the Western world, establishing
their rightful ruling place as the very standard of human greatness,
these racist producers proclaimed in a nutshell. By the time of Mather’s
death in 1728, Royal Society fellows had fully constructed this White
ruling standard for humanity. Christianity, rationality, civilization,
wealth, goodness, souls, beauty, light, Adam, Jesus, God, and freedom
had all been framed as the dominion of White people from Europe.
The only question was whether lowly African people had the capacity
of rising up and reaching the standard. As America’s first great assim-
ilationist, Cotton Mather preached that African people could become
White in their souls.
In 1729, Samuel Mather completed his esteeming biography of
his deceased father, as Cotton Mather had done for his father, and as
Increase Mather had done for Richard Mather. “When he walked the
76 tamped from the Beginning
streets,” Samuel wrote of Cotton Mather, “he still blessed many persons
who never knew it, with Secret Wishes.” He blessed the Black man,
dearly praying “Lord, Wash that poor Soul; make him white by the Washing of
thy SPIRIT.”22

Thomas Jefferson

NOTHING FAZED HIM. He carried tired mules. He pressed on while com-
panions fainted. He cut down predators as calmly as he rested in trees
at night. Peter Jefferson had a job to do in 1747: he was surveying
land never before seen by White settlers, in order to continue the
boundary-line between Virginia and North Carolina across the dan-
gerous Blue Ridge Mountains. He had been commissioned to certify
that colonial America’s westernmost point had not become like Jamai-
ca’s Blue Mountains, a haven for runaways.1
In time, Peter Jefferson’s mesmerizing stamina, strength, and
courage on surveying trips became transfixed in family lore. Among
the first to hear the stories was four-year-old Thomas, overjoyed
when his father finally came home at the end of 1747. Thomas was
Peter’s oldest son, born on April 13 during the memorable year of
1743. Cotton Mather’s missionary counterpart in Virginia, James
Blair, died sixteen days after Thomas’s birth, marking the end of an
era when theologians almost completely dominated the racial dis-
course in America. The year also marked the birth of a new intellec-
tual era. “Enlightened” thinkers started secularizing and expanding
the racist discourse throughout the colonies, tutoring future antislav-
ery, anti-abolitionist, and anti-royal revolutionaries in Thomas Jeffer-
son’s generation. And Cotton Mather’s greatest secular disciple led
the way.

80 tamped from the Beginning
“THE FIRST DRUDGERY of settling new colonies is now pretty well over,”
Benjamin Franklin observed in 1743, “and there are many in every
province in circumstances that set them at ease, and afford leisure
to cultivate the finer arts, and improve the common stock of knowl-
edge.” At thirty-seven, Franklin’s circumstances certainly set him at
ease. Since fleeing Boston, he had built an empire of stores, almanacs,
and newspapers in Philadelphia. For men like him, who leisured about
as their capital literally or figuratively worked for them, his observa-
tions about living at ease were no doubt true. Franklin founded the
American Philosophical Society (APS) in 1743 in Philadelphia. Mod-
eled after the Royal Society, the APS became the colonies’ first formal
association of scholars since the Mathers’ Boston Society in the 1680s.
Franklin’s scholarly baby died in infancy, but it was revived in 1767
with a commitment to “all philosophical Experiments that let Light
into the Nature of Things.”2

THE SCIENTIFIC REVOLUTION of the 1600s had given way to a greater

intellectual movement in the 1700s. Secular knowledge, and notions
of the propensity for universal human progress, had long been dis-
trusted in Christian Europe. That changed with the dawn of an age
that came to be known as les Lumières in France, Aufklärung in Germany,
Illuminismo in Italy, and the Enlightenment in Great Britain and America.
For Enlightenment intellectuals, the metaphor of light typically
had a double meaning. Europeans had rediscovered learning after a
thousand years in religious darkness, and their bright continental bea-
con of insight existed in the midst of a “dark” world not yet touched by
light. Light, then, became a metaphor for Europeanness, and therefore
Whiteness, a notion that Benjamin Franklin and his philosophical soci-
ety eagerly embraced and imported to the colonies. White colonists,
Franklin alleged in Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind (1751),
were “making this side of our Globe reflect a brighter Light.” Let us
bar uneconomical slavery and Black people, Franklin suggested. “But
perhaps,” he thought, “I am partial to the complexion of my Country,
for such kind of partiality is natural to Mankind.” Enlightenment ideas
nlightenment 81

gave legitimacy to this long-held racist “partiality,” the connection
between lightness and Whiteness and reason, on the one hand, and
between darkness and Blackness and ignorance, on the other.3
These Enlightenment counterpoints arose, conveniently, at a time
when Western Europe’s triangular transatlantic trade was flourishing.
Great Britain, France, and colonial America principally furnished ships
and manufactured goods. The ships sailed to West Africa, and traders
exchanged these goods, at a profit, for human merchandise. Manufac-
tured cloth became the most sought-after item in eighteenth-century
Africa for the same reason that cloth was coveted in Europe—nearly
everyone in Africa (as in Europe) wore clothes, and nearly everyone in
Africa (as in Europe) desired better clothes. Only the poorest of African
people did not wear an upper garment, but this small number became
representative in the European mind. It was the irony of the age: slave
traders knew that cloth was the most desired commodity in both places,
but at the same time some of them were producing the racist idea that
Africans walked around naked like animals. Producers of this racist idea
had to know their tales were false. But they went on producing them
anyway to justify their lucrative commerce in human beings.4
The slave ships traveled from Africa to the Americas, where deal-
ers exchanged at another profit the newly enslaved Africans for raw
materials that had been produced by the long-enslaved Africans. The
ships and traders returned home and began the process anew, provid-
ing a “triple stimulus” for European commerce (and a triple exploita-
tion of African people). Practically all the coastal manufacturing and
trading towns in the Western world developed an enriching connec-
tion to the transatlantic trade during the eighteenth century. Profits
exploded with the growth and prosperity of the slave trade in Britain’s
principal port, Richard Mather’s old preaching ground, Liverpool. The
principal American slave-trading port was Newport, Rhode Island,
and the proceeds produced mammoth fortunes that can be seen in the
mansions still dotting the town’s historic waterfront.
In his 1745 book endorsing the slave-trading Royal African Com-
pany, famous economics writer Malachy Postlethwayt defined the Brit-
ish Empire as “a magnificent superstructure of American commerce and
82 tamped from the Beginning
naval power, on an African foundation.” But another foundation lay
beneath that foundation: those all-important producers of racist ideas,
who ensured that this magnificent superstructure would continue to
seem normal to potential resisters. Enlightenment intellectuals produced
the racist idea that the growing socioeconomic inequities between
England and Senegambia, Europe and Africa, the enslavers and enslaved,
had to be God’s or nature’s or nurture’s will. Racist ideas clouded the
discrimination, rationalized the racial disparities, defined the enslaved,
as opposed to the enslavers, as the problem people. Antiracist ideas
hardly made the dictionary of racial thought during the Enlightenment.5
Carl Linnaeus, the progenitor of Sweden’s Enlightenment, fol-
lowed in the footsteps of François Bernier and took the lead classi-
fying humanity into a racial hierarchy for the new intellectual and
commercial age. In Systema Naturae, first published in 1735, Linnaeus
placed humans at the pinnacle of the animal kingdom. He sliced the
genus Homo into Homo sapiens (humans) and Homo troglodytes (ape), and
so on, and further divided the single Homo sapiens species into four vari-
eties. At the pinnacle of his human kingdom reigned H. sapiens euro-
paeus: “Very smart, inventive. Covered by tight clothing. Ruled by law.”
Then came H. sapiens americanus (“Ruled by custom”) and H. sapiens asiat-
icus (“Ruled by opinion”). He relegated humanity’s nadir, H. sapiens afer,
to the bottom, calling this group “sluggish, lazy . . . [c]rafty, slow, care-
less. Covered by grease. Ruled by caprice,” describing, in particular,
the “females with genital flap and elongated breasts.”6
Carl Linnaeus created a hierarchy within the animal kingdom and
a hierarchy within the human kingdom, and this human hierarchy was
based on race. His “enlightened” peers were also creating human hier-
archies; within the European kingdom, they placed Irish people, Jews,
Romani, and southern and eastern Europeans at the bottom. Enslav-
ers and slave traders were creating similar ethnic hierarchies within
the African kingdom. Enslaved Africans in North America were com-
ing mainly from seven cultural-geopolitical regions: Angola (26 per-
cent), Senegambia (20 percent), Nigeria (17 percent), Sierra Leone (11
percent), Ghana (11 percent), Ivory Coast (6 percent), and Benin (3
percent). Since the hierarchies were usually based on which ancestral
nlightenment 83

groups were thought to make the best slaves, or whose ways most
resembled those of Europeans, different enslavers with different needs
and different cultures had different hierarchies. Generally, Angolans
were classed as the most inferior Africans, since they were priced so
cheaply in slave markets (due to their greater supply). Linnaeus classed
the Khoi (or Hottentot) of South Africa as a divergent branch of
humanity, Homo monstrosis monorchidei. Since the late seventeenth cen-
tury, the Khoi people had been deemed “the missing link between
human and ape species.” 7
Making hierarchies of Black ethnic groups within the African
kingdom can be termed ethnic racism, because it is at the intersection
of ethnocentric and racist ideas, while making hierarchies pitting all
Europeans over all Africans was simply racism. In the end, both classi-
fied a Black ethnic group as inferior. Standards of measurement for the
ethnic groups within the African hierarchies were based on European
cultural values and traits, and hierarchy-making was wielded in the
service of a political project: enslavement. Senegambians were deemed
superior to Angolans because they supposedly made better slaves,
and because supposedly their ways were closer to European ways.
Imported Africans in the Americas no doubt recognized the hierarchy
of African peoples as quickly as imported White servants recognized
the broader racial hierarchy. When and if Senegambians cast them-
selves as superior to Angolans to justify any relative privileges they
received, Senegambians were espousing ethnically racist ideas, just like
those Whites who used racist ideas to justify their White privileges.
Whenever a Black person or group used White people as a standard
of measurement, and cast another Black person or group as inferior, it
was another instance of racism. Carl Linnaeus and company crafted
one massive hierarchy of races and of ethnic groups within the races.
The entire ladder and all of its steps—from the Greeks or Brits at the
very top down to the Angolans and Hottentots at the bottom—every-
thing bespoke ethnic racism. Some “superior” Africans agreed with the
collection of ethnocentric steps for Africans, but rejected the racist
ladder that deemed them inferior to White people. They smacked the
racist chicken and enjoyed its racist eggs.8
84 tamped from the Beginning
Every traded African ethnic group was like a product, and slave
traders seemed to be valuing and devaluing these ethnic products
based on the laws of supply and demand. Linnaeus did not seem to
be part of a grandiose scheme to force-feed ethnic racism to enslaved
peoples to divide and conquer them. But whenever ethnic racism did
set the natural allies on American plantations apart, in the manner
that racism set the natural allies in American poverty apart, enslavers
hardly minded. They were usually willing to deploy any tool—intel-
lectual or otherwise—to suppress slave resistance and ensure returns
on their investments.

VOLTAIRE, FRANCE’S ENLIGHTENMENT GURU, used Linnaeus’s racist ladder

in the book of additions that supplemented his half-million-word Essay
on Universal History in 1756. He agreed there was a permanent natural
order of the species. He asked, “Were the flowers, fruits, trees, and
animals with which nature covers the face of the earth, planted by her
at first only in one spot, in order that they might be spread over the
rest of the world?” No, he boldly declared. “The negro race is a species
of men as different from ours as the breed of spaniels is from that of
greyhound. . . . If their understanding is not of a different nature from
ours it is at least greatly inferior.” The African people were like ani-
mals, he added, merely living to satisfy “bodily wants.” However, as a
“warlike, hardy, and cruel people,” they were “superior” soldiers.9
With the publication of Essay on Universal History, Voltaire became
the first prominent writer in almost a century daring enough to sug-
gest polygenesis. The theory of separately created races was a con-
trast to the assimilationist idea of monogenesis, that is, of all humans
as descendants of a White Adam and Eve. Voltaire emerged as the
eighteenth century’s chief arbiter of segregationist thought, promoting
the idea that the races were fundamentally separate, that the separa-
tion was immutable, and that the inferior Black race had no capability
to assimilate, to be normal, or to be civilized and White. The Enlight-
enment shift to secular thought had thus opened the door to the
production of more segregationist ideas. And segregationist ideas of
nlightenment 85

permanent Black inferiority appealed to enslavers, because they bol-
stered their defense of the permanent enslavement of Black people.
Voltaire was intellectually at odds with naturalist Georges Louis
Leclerc, who adopted the name Buffon. Buffon headed the moderate
mainstream of the French Enlightenment through his encyclopedic
Histoire naturelle (Natural history), which appeared in forty-five volumes
over fifty-five years beginning in 1749. Nearly every European intel-
lectual read them. And while Voltaire promoted segregationist think-
ing, Buffon remained committed to assimilationist ideas.
The argument over Voltaire’s multiple human species versus Buf-
fon’s single human species was one aspect of a larger scientific divide
during the Enlightenment era. Their beloved Sir Isaac Newton envi-
sioned the natural world as an assembled machine running on “natural
laws.” Newton did not explain how it was assembled. That was fine
for Voltaire, who believed the natural world—including the races—to
be unchangeable, even from God’s power. Buffon instead beheld an
ever-changing world. Buffon and Voltaire did agree on one thing: they
both opposed slavery. Actually, most of the leading Enlightenment
intellectuals were producers of racist ideas and abolitionist thought.10
Buffon defined a species as “a constant succession of similar indi-
viduals that can reproduce together.” And since different races could
reproduce together, they must be of the same species, he argued. Buf-
fon was responding to some of the first segregationist denigrations of
biracial people. Polygenesists were questioning or rejecting the repro-
ductive capability of biracial people in order to substantiate their argu-
ments for racial groups being separate species. If Blacks and Whites
were separate species, then their offspring would be infertile. And so
the word mulatto, which came from “mule,” came into being, because
mules were the infertile offspring of horses and donkeys. In the eigh-
teenth century, the adage “black as the devil” battled for popularity in
the English-speaking world with “God made the white man, the devil
made the mulatto.”11
Buffon distinguished six races or varieties of a single human spe-
cies (and the Khoi people of South Africa he placed with monkeys).
He positioned Africans “between the extremes of barbarism and of
86 tamped from the Beginning
civilization.” They had “little knowledge” of the “arts and sciences,”
and their language was “without rules,” said Buffon. As a climate
theorist and monogenesist, Buffon did not believe these qualities were
fixed in stone. If Africans were imported to Europe, then their color
would gradually change and become “perhaps as white as the natives”
of Europe. It was in Europe where “we behold the human form in its
greatest perfection,” and where “we ought to form our ideas of the
real and natural colour of man.” Buffon sounded like the foundational
thinker of modern European art history, Johann Joachim Winckel-
mann of Germany. “A beautiful body will be all the more beautiful the
whiter it is,” Winckelmann said in his disciplinary classic, Geschichte der
Kunst des Alterthums (History of the Art of Antiquity) in 1764. These were
the “enlightened” ideas on race that Benjamin Franklin’s American
Philosophical Society and a young Thomas Jefferson were consuming
and importing to America on the eve of the American Revolution.12

PETER JEFFERSON ACQUIRED around twelve hundred acres in Virginia’s

Albemarle County and went on to represent the county in the House
of Burgesses, Virginia’s legislative body. Shadwell, his tobacco planta-
tion, sat about five miles east of the current center of Charlottesville.
The Jefferson home was a popular rest stop for nearby Cherokees and
Catawbas on their regular diplomatic journeys to Williamsburg. The
young Thomas Jefferson “acquired impressions of attachment and
commiseration for them which have never been obliterated,” he remi-
nisced years later.13
While Thomas was raised on the common sight of distinguished
Native American visitors, he commonly saw African people as house
workers tending to his every need as well as field workers tending to
tobacco. In 1745, someone brought a two-year-old Thomas Jeffer-
son out of Shadwell’s big house. Thomas was held up to a woman on
horseback who placed him on a pillow secured to the horse. The rider,
who was a slave, took the boy for a ride to a relative’s plantation. This
was Thomas Jefferson’s earliest childhood memory. It associated slav-
ery with comfort. The slave was entrusted with looking after him, and
nlightenment 87

on his soft saddle he felt safe and secure, later recalling the woman as
“kind and gentle.”14
When he played with African boys years later, Thomas learned
more about slaveholding. As he recalled, “The parent storms, the child
looks on, catches the lineaments of wrath, puts on the same airs in
the circle of smaller slaves, gives a loose to his worst passions, and
thus nursed, educated, and daily exercised in tyranny, cannot but be
stamped by it with odious peculiarities.”15
In his home, no one around him saw anything wrong with the tyr-
anny. Slavery was as customary as prisons are today. Few could imag-
ine an ordered world without them. Peter Jefferson had accumulated
almost sixty captives by the 1750s, which made him the second-largest
slaveholder in Albemarle County. Peter preached to his children the
importance of self-reliance—oblivious of the contradiction—to which
he credited his own success.
Peter did not, however, preach to his son the importance of reli-
gion. In fact, when Virginia’s First Great Awakening reached the area,
it bypassed the Shadwell plantation. Peter did not allow Samuel Davies,
who almost single-handedly brought the Awakening to Virginia, to
minister to his children or his captives. It is likely that Peter believed—
like many of his slaveholding peers—“that Christianizing the Negroes
makes them proud and saucy, and tempts them to imagine themselves
upon an equality with the white people,” as Davies reported in his most
celebrated sermon in 1757. Some American planters had been sold on
Davies’s viewpoint that “some should be Masters and some Servants,”
and more were open to converting their captives than ever before. But
not enough of them to satisfy Cotton Mather’s likeminded mission-
aries, who agreed with Davies that “a good Christian will always be a
good Servant.” Enslavers commonly “let [slaves] live on in their Pagan
darkness,” fearing Christianity would incite their resistance, observed a
visiting Swede, Peter Kalm, in the late 1740s. Twenty years later, irrita-
ble Virginia planter Landon Carter fumed about Blacks being “devils,”
adding, “to make them otherwise than slaves will be to set devils free.”16
Not all Christian missionaries were protecting slavery by preach-
ing Christian submission in the mid-eighteenth century. In 1742, New
88 tamped from the Beginning
Jersey native John Woolman, a store clerk, was asked to write a bill of
sale for an unnamed African woman. He began to question the institu-
tion and soon kicked off what became a legendary traveling ministry,
spreading Quakerism and antislavery. After his first Quaker mission in
the harrowing slaveholding South in 1746, Woolman jotted down Some
Considerations on the Keeping of Negroes.17
“We are in a high Station, and enjoy greater Favours than they,”
Woolman theorized. God had endowed White Christians with “dis-
tinguished Gifts.” By sanctioning slavery, America was “misusing his
Gifts.” Woolman planted his groundbreaking abolitionist tree in the
same racist soil that proslavery theologians like Cotton Mather—
preaching divine slavery—had used a century ago. Their divergences
over slavery itself obscured their parallel political racism that denied
Black people self-determination. Mather’s proslavery theological trea-
tises proclaimed masters divinely charged to care for the degraded
race of natural servants. Woolman’s antislavery treatise proclaimed
Christians to be divinely charged with “greater Favours” to emanci-
pate, Christianize, and care for the degraded slaves. But whether they
were to be given eternal slavery or eventual emancipation, enslaved
Africans would be acted upon as dependent children reliant on White
enslavers or abolitionists for their fate.18
John Woolman bided his time before submitting his essay to the
press of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. Woolman knew the history
of Quakers quarreling over slavery, of abolitionists disrupting meet-
ings and being banished. He cared just as much about his Quaker min-
istry and Quaker unity as he did antislavery. In 1752, when abolitionist
Anthony Benezet was elected to the press’s editorial board, Woolman
knew the time was right to publish his eight-year-old essay. By early
1754, Benjamin Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette was advertising the new
publication of Some Considerations on the Keeping of Negroes.
By the end of the year, some Quakers had started to move like
never before against slavery, pushed by Benezet and Woolman and
the contradictions of Christian slavery. Benezet had edited Woolman’s
essay. If Woolman thrived in privacy, Benezet thrived in public, and
the two reformers made a dynamic duo of antislavery activists. In
nlightenment 89

September 1754, the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting approved for pub-
lication the Epistle of Caution and Advice Concerning the Buying and Keeping
of Slaves. In the Epistle, antislavery reformers struck a compromise, urg-
ing Quakers to buy no more slaves. The writers evoked the Golden
Law on the sixty-sixth uncelebrated anniversary of the Germantown
Petition. Benezet initiated the writing of the Epistle and incorporated
input from Woolman. Hundreds of copies were shipped to the quar-
terly meetings in the Delaware Valley. The front door of American
Quakerism had officially been opened to antislavery. But Quaker mas-
ters quickly slammed the doors to their separate rooms. Seventy per-
cent refused to free their captives. Woolman learned firsthand of their
dogged refusal when he ventured into Maryland, Virginia, and North
Carolina in 1757.19
Slavery’s defenders spewed many racist ideas, ranging from Blacks
being a backward people, to them living better in America than in
Africa, to the curse of Ham. It “troubled” Woolman “to perceive the
darkness of their imagination.” He never faltered in shooting back,
in his calm, compassionate way. No one is inferior in God’s eyes,
he stressed. They had not imported Africans for their own good,
as demonstrated by their constant abuse, overwork, starvation, and
scarce clothing.20
In 1760, Woolman traveled to the Rhode Island homes of some
of colonial America’s wealthiest slave-traders. Their “smooth conduct”
and “superficial friendship” nearly lured him away from antislavery. He
ventured back home to New Jersey as he had done from the South
years earlier—dragging a heavy bag of thoughts. In arguing against
slavery over the years, he found himself arguing against African infe-
riority, and thus arguing against himself. He had to rethink whether
White people were in fact bestowed a “high Station.” In 1762, he
updated Considerations on Keeping Negroes.21
We must speak out against slavery “from a love of equity,” Wool-
man avowed in the second part of the pamphlet. He dropped the
rhetoric of greater “Favours” in a racial sense, although it remained
in a religious sense. His antiracism shined. “Placing on Men the igno-
minious Title SLAVE, dressing them in uncomely Garments, keeping
90 tamped from the Beginning
them to servile Labour . . . tends gradually to fix a Nation in the mind,
that they are a Sort of People below us in Nature,” stated Woolman.
But Whites should not connect slavery “with the Black Colour, and
Liberty with the White,” because “where false Ideas are twisted into
our Minds, it is with Difficulty we get fair disentangled.” In matters of
right and equity, “the Colour of a Man avails nothing.”22
Woolman’s antiracism was ahead of its time, like his passionate ser-
mons against poverty, animal cruelty, military conscription, and war.
But Woolman’s antislavery in the 1750s and 1760s was right on time
for the American Revolution, a political upheaval that forced freedom
fighters of Thomas Jefferson’s generation to address their relationships
with slavery.23

DR. THOMAS WALKER’S remedies did not work, and when his patient,
the forty-nine-year-old father of Thomas Jefferson, died on August
17, 1757, it was an unbelievable sight for all who had heard the family
lore of Peter Jefferson’s strength. The fourteen-year-old Thomas had
to run his own life. As the oldest male, he now headed the household,
according to Virginia’s patriarchal creed. But by all accounts, the thir-
ty-seven-year-old Jane Randolph Jefferson did not look to her four-
teen-year-old son for guidance, or to Dr. Walker, the estate’s overseer.
She became the manager of eight children, sixty-six enslaved people,
and at least 2,750 acres. Jane Jefferson was sociable, fond of luxury,
and meticulous about keeping the plantation’s records—traits she
bestowed upon Thomas.24
In 1760, Thomas Jefferson enrolled in the College of William
& Mary, where he thoroughly immersed himself in Enlightenment
thought, including its antislavery ideas. He studied under the newly
hired twenty-six-year-old Enlightenment intellectual William Small
of Scotland, who taught that reason, not religion, should command
human affairs, a lesson that would inform Jefferson’s views about gov-
ernment. Jefferson also read Buffon’s Natural History, and he studied
Francis Bacon, John Locke, and Isaac Newton, a trio he later called
“the three greatest men the world has ever produced.”
nlightenment 91

When Jefferson graduated in 1762, he entered the informal law
school of Virginia’s leading lawyer, George Wythe, well known for
his legal mind and taste for luxury. Admitted to the bar at twenty-four
years old in 1767, Jefferson stepped into the political whirlwind of the
House of Burgesses, representing Albemarle County like his father
had. The Burgesses protested England’s latest imposition of taxes,
prompting Virginia’s royal governor to close their doors on May 17,
1769. Jefferson had been seated all of ten days.25
Even after he lost his seat, Jefferson actively participated in the
growing hostilities to England and to slavery. He took the freedom
suit of twenty-seven-year-old fugitive Samuel Howell. Virginia law
prescribed thirty years of servitude for first-generation biracial chil-
dren of free parents “to prevent that abominable mixture of white man
or women with negroes or mulattoes.” Howell was second genera-
tion, and Jefferson told the court that it was wicked to extend slavery,
because “under the law of nature, all men are born free.” Wythe, the
opposing attorney, stood up to start his rejoinder. The judge ordered
Wythe back down and ruled against Jefferson. The law in the col-
onies was still staunchly proslavery, and racial laws were becoming
staunchly segregationist. But then, suddenly, a Boston panel of judges
reversed the ideological trend.26

Black Exhibits
AS THOMAS JEFFERSON supervised the building of his plantation near Char-
lottesville in October 1772, an enslaved nineteen-year-old woman up the
coast gazed anxiously at eighteen gentlemen who identified publicly “as
the most respectable characters in Boston.” They all had been instructed
to judge whether she had actually authored her famous poetry, espe-
cially its sophisticated Greek and Latin imagery. She saw familiar faces:
Massachusetts governor Thomas Hutchinson, future governor James
Bowdoin, mega-slaveholder John Hancock, and Cotton Mather’s son
Samuel, who is remembered as the last in the line of illustrious Mathers
after Richard, Increase, and Cotton. Phillis Wheatley, the poet making
her case before Samuel Mather and the other Bostonians, is now remem-
bered as the first in the line of illustrious African American writers.1
Her enslavement story did not begin like that of many other Afri-
can people. In 1761, Susanna Wheatley, the wife of tailor and financier
John Wheatley, visited the newest storehouse of chained humanity
in southwest Boston, not far from where Cotton Mather used to live.
Captain Peter Gwinn of the Phillis had just arrived in Boston with
seventy-five captives from Senegambia. Looking for a domestic ser-
vant, Susanna Wheatley scanned past the “several robust, healthy
females” and laid her eyes on a sickly, naked little girl, covered by a
dirty carpet. Some of the seven-year-old captive’s front baby teeth had
come out, possibly reminding Wheatley of her seven-year-old daugh-
ter, who had died. Susanna Wheatley was mourning the ninth anniver-
sary of Sarah Wheatley’s tragic death.2

Bla k xhi its 93

Well before she became the most famous Black exhibit in the
Western world, the young African girl was most likely purchased by
Susanna and John to serve as a living reminder of Sarah Wheatley.
Whatever name her Wolof relatives had given her, it was now lost to
gray chains, bloody blue waters, and scribbled history. The Wheatleys
renamed her after the slave ship that had brought her to them. From
the beginning, Phillis Wheatley “had a child’s place,” suggested an
early biographer, in the Wheatley’s “house and in their hearts.” Home-
schooled, Phillis “never was looked on as a slave,” explained Hannah
Mather Crocker, the granddaughter of Cotton Mather.3
About four years after her arrival, eleven-year-old Phillis jot-
ted down her first poem in English. It was a four-line tribute to the
1764 death (from smallpox) of the seventeen-year-old daughter of the
Thachers, a distinguished Puritan family. Phillis was moved to write
the poem after overhearing the Wheatleys lament the tragic death of
Sarah Thacher.
By age twelve, Phillis had no problem reading Latin and Greek
classics, English literature, and the Bible. She published her first poem,
“On Messrs. Hussey and Coffin,” in a December 1767 issue of the
Newport Mercury. A storm had almost caused two local merchants to
shipwreck off the Boston coast. The Wheatleys had one or both of the
merchants over for dinner. Phillis listened intently as the merchant(s)
told the story of “their narrow Escape.”
In 1767, the fifteen-year-old composed “To the University of
Cambridge,” a poem that signified her longing to enter the all-White,
all-male Harvard. She had already consumed the assimilationist ideas
about her race that had probably been fed to her by the Wheatley
family, saying, for instance, “’Twas but e’en now I left my native Shore
/ The sable Land of error’s darkest night.” Assimilationists were pro-
ducing the racist idea of unenlightened Africa, and telling Wheatley
and other Blacks that the light of America was a gift. The next year,
Wheatley continued to marvel in her assimilation—and attack segre-
gationist curse theory—in the poem, “On Being Brought from Africa
to America.”
94 tamped from the Beginning
Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
“Their coulour is a diabolical die,”
Remember, Christians, Negros, black as Cain,
May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.

In 1771, Phillis Wheatley began assembling her work into a col-

lection, including a number of inspirational poems on the increasing
tensions between Britain and colonial America in the 1760s, which
became her claim to fame. The Wheatleys figured that prospective
publishers and buyers would need to be assured of Phillis’s authen-
ticity. This is why John Wheatley assembled such a powerhouse of
Boston elites in 1772.4
Hardly believing an enslaved Black girl could fathom Greek and
Latin, the eighteen men probably asked her to unpack the classical
allusions in her poems. Whatever their questions were, Wheatley daz-
zled the skeptical tribunal of eighteen men. They signed the follow-
ing assimilationist attestation: “We whose Names are under-written do
assure the World, that the Poems specified in the following Page, were
(as we verily believe) written by Phillis, a young Negro Girl, who was
but a few Years since, brought an uncultivated Barbarian from Africa.”5
The Wheatleys were delighted. But even with this attestation in
hand, no American publisher was willing to alienate slaveholding con-
sumers by publishing her by now famous poems, which were entering
the abolitionist literature of the Revolutionary era. Phillis Wheatley
had auditioned and proven the capability of Black humanity to the
assimilationist scions of Boston. But unlike the publishers, these men
did not have much to lose.

PHILLIS WHEATLEY WAS not the first so-called “uncultivated Barbarian” to

be examined and exhibited. Throughout the eighteenth century’s race
for Enlightenment, assimilationists galloped around seeking out human
experiments—“barbarians” to civilize into the “superior” ways of
Europeans—to prove segregationists wrong, and sometimes to prove
slaveholders wrong. As trained exotic creatures in the racist circus,
Bla k xhi its 95

Black people could showcase Black capacity for Whiteness, for human
equality, for something other than slavery. They could show they were
capable of freedom—someday. Few worked as passionately to provide
this human evidence, or put up as much money to experiment, as John
Montagu, England’s Second Duke of Montagu.
Early in the 1700s, the duke experimented on the youngest son
of Jamaica’s first freed Blacks to see if he could match the intellectual
achievements of his White peers. The duke sent Francis Williams to an
English academy and Cambridge University, where Francis equaled in
intellectual attainments his peers who were similarly educated.
Sometime between 1738 and 1740, Williams returned home, prob-
ably donning a white wig of curls over his dark skin and assimilated
mind. He opened a grammar school for slaveholders’ children and
penned fawning Latin odes to every colonial governor of Jamaica. His
1758 anti-Black poem to Governor George Haldane read: “Tho’ dark
the stream on which the tribute flows, / Not from the skin, but from
the heart it rose.”6
Celebrity Scottish philosopher David Hume learned about the
Cambridge-trained Francis Williams. But neither Williams, nor the grow-
ing fashion of having Black boys as servants in England, nor Buffon’s
climate theory could change his mind about natural human hierarchy
and Blacks’ incapability for Whiteness. Hume declared his segregationist
position emphatically. In 1753, he updated his popular critique of climate
theory, “Of Natural Characters,” adding the most infamous footnote in
the history of racist ideas:

I am apt to suspect the negroes and in general all the other spe-
cies of men (for there are four or five different kinds) to be natu-
rally inferior to the whites. There never was a civilized nation of
any other complexion than white, nor even any individual eminent
either in action or speculation. On the other hand, the most rude
and barbarous of the Whites . . . have still something eminent about
them. . . . Such a uniform and constant difference could not happen,
in so many countries and ages, if nature had not made an original
distinction between these breeds of men.  .  .  . In Jamaica, indeed,
96 tamped from the Beginning
they talk of one Negro as a man of parts and learning; but it is likely
he is admired for slender accomplishments, like a parrot who speaks
a few words plainly.7

Hume strongly opposed slavery, but like many other abolitionists

of the Enlightenment period, he never saw his segregationist thinking
as contradicting his antislavery stance. Ignoring his antislavery posi-
tion, proslavery theorists over the next few decades used David Hume
as a model, adopting his footnote to “Of Natural Characters” as their
international anthem.8

SIMILAR EXPERIMENTS OF educating young Black males were carried out

in America, and while some segregationists began to accept assimila-
tionist ideas and even oppose slavery, few White Americans rejected
racist thinking altogether. On a visit home in 1763 during his nearly
two decades of residence in Europe, Benjamin Franklin saw some Black
exhibits at a Philadelphia school run by the Associates of Dr. Thomas
Bray. The London-based educational group had been named in 1731
after the deceased organizer of the Society for the Propagation of the
Gospel in Foreign Parts. Assessing the pupils, Franklin gained “a higher
opinion of the natural capacities of the black Race.” Some Blacks could
“adopt our Language or Customs,” he admitted. But that seemed to be
all Franklin could concede, probably recognizing that the production
of racist ideas was essential to substantiating slavery. Seven years later,
in lobbying the crown for Georgia’s harsh slave code, Franklin argued
that the “majority” of slaves was “of a plotting Disposition, dark, sullen,
malicious, revengeful, and cruel in the highest Degree.”9
For racists like Franklin, it proved difficult to believe that many
Blacks were capable of becoming another Francis Williams or Phil-
lis Wheatley. Racists often understood this capable handful to be
“extraordinary Negroes.” Joseph Jekyll actually began his 1805 biog-
raphy of popular Afro-British writer and Duke of Montague protégé
Ignatius Sancho identifying him as “this extraordinary Negro.” These
Bla k xhi its 97

extraordinary Negros supposedly defied the laws of nature or nurture
that standardized Black decadence. They were not ordinarily inferior
like the “majority.” This mind game allowed racists to maintain their
racist ideas in the midst of individual Africans defying its precepts. It
doomed from the start the strategy of exhibiting excelling Blacks to
change racist minds. But this strategy of persuasion endured.10
After the Duke of Montagu died in 1749, Selina Hastings, known as
the Countess of Huntingdon, replaced him as the principal shepherd of
Black exhibits in the English-speaking world. If she had been a Puritan
male, Cotton Mather would have adored this Methodist trailblazer, who
promoted the writings of Christian Blacks as a testament of Black capa-
bility for conversion. Two years before her death, the countess spon-
sored Olaudah Equiano’s aptly titled Interesting Narrative of his Nigerian
birth, capture, enslavement, education, and emancipation in 1789. Her
first and potentially most rewarding campaign was shepherding the
inaugural slave narrative of Ukawsaw Gronniosaw (James Albert) into
print in 1772. The countess almost certainly adored Gronniosaw’s assim-
ilationist plot: the more he conformed to slavery, superior European cul-
ture, and Christianity, and left behind his heathen, inferior upbringing
in West Africa, the happier and holier he became. Since freedom had
been colored white, Gronniosaw believed that in order to be truly free,
he had to abandon his Nigerian traditions and become White.11
Britain’s chief justice, Lord Mansfield, went further than the Duke
of Montagu and Selina Hastings and freed a Virginia runaway, James
Somerset, overshadowing Gronniosaw’s pioneering slave narrative and
Wheatley’s tribunal in Boston in 1772. No one could be enslaved in
England, Mansfield ruled, raising antislavery English law over proslav-
ery colonial law. Fearing Mansfield’s ruling could one day extend to
the British colonies, the Somerset case prodded proslavery theorists
out into the open and roused the transatlantic abolitionist movement.
University of Pennsylvania professor and pioneering American physi-
cian Benjamin Rush anonymously issued a stinging antislavery pam-
phlet in Philadelphia in February 1773, using Phillis Wheatley’s work
to push the abolitionist case in America.
98 tamped from the Beginning
Rush praised the “singular genius” of Wheatley (without naming
her). All the vices attributed to Black people, from idleness to treach-
ery to theft, were “the offspring of slavery,” Rush wrote. In fact, those
unsubstantiated vices attributed to Black people were the offspring of
the illogically racist mind. Were captives really lazier, more deceitful,
and more crooked than their enslavers? It was the latter who forced
others to work for them, treacherously whipping them when they
did not, and stealing the proceeds of their labor when they did. In
any case, Rush was the first activist to commercialize the persuasive,
though racist, abolitionist theory that slavery made Black people infe-
rior. Whether benevolent or not, any idea that suggests that Black peo-
ple as a group are inferior, that something is wrong with Black people,
is a racist idea. Slavery was killing, torturing, raping, and exploiting
people, tearing apart families, snatching precious time, and locking
captives in socioeconomic desolation. The confines of enslavement
were producing Black people who were intellectually, psychologically,
culturally, and behaviorally different, not inferior.
Benjamin Rush whacked down curse theory and pushed against a
century of American theology, from Cotton Mather to Samuel Davies,
in his pamphlet. “A Christian slave is a contradiction in terms,” he
argued, demanding that America “put a stop to slavery!” Reprinted and
circulated in New York, Boston, London, and Paris, Rush’s words con-
solidated the forces that in 1774 organized the Pennsylvania Abolition
Society, the first known antislavery society of non-Africans in North

TO FIND A publisher for her Poems on Various Subjects, Wheatley had to

journey to London in the summer of 1773—where she was greeted and
paraded and exhibited like an exotic rock star. There, she secured the
financial support of the Countess of Huntingdon. In thanks, Wheatley
dedicated her book, the first ever by an African American woman and
the second by an American woman, to the countess. The publication
of her poems in September 1773, a year after slavery had been out-
lawed in England and a few months after Rush’s abolitionist pamphlet
Bla k xhi its 99

reached England, set off a social earthquake in London. Londoners
condemned American slavery, and American slaveholders resisted the
Londoners. And then abolitionists on both sides of the Atlantic more
firmly resisted the rule of slaveholders in the colonies. In December
1773, the Boston Tea Party set off a political earthquake, and then
England’s Coercive Acts, and then the Patriots’ resistance to British
rule in the colonies. As the American Revolution budded, British com-
mentators slammed the hypocrisy of Bostonians’ boasts of Wheatley’s
ingenuity while keeping her enslaved. The poet was quickly freed.13
George Washington praised the talents of Phillis Wheatley. In
France, Voltaire somehow got his hands on Poems on Various Subjects.
Wheatley proved, Voltaire confessed, that Blacks could write poetry.
This from a man who a few years prior had not been able to decide
whether Blacks had developed from monkeys, or monkeys had devel-
oped from Blacks. Still, neither Wheatley nor Benjamin Rush nor any
Enlightenment abolitionist was able to alter the position of proslav-
ery segregationists. So long as there was slavery, there would be racist
ideas justifying it. And there was nothing Wheatley and Rush could do
to stop the production of racist proslavery ideas other than end slavery.
In September 1773, Philadelphia-based Caribbean absentee planter
Richard Nisbet attacked Benjamin Rush for peddling “a single exam-
ple of a negro girl writing a few silly poems, to prove that the blacks
are not deficient to us in understanding.” On November 15, 1773, a
short, satirical essay appeared in the Pennsylvania Packet containing a
rewritten biblical passage as evidence that God had fitted Africans for
slavery. A few weeks later, someone released Personal Slavery Established.
In attacking Rush (or satirizing Nisbet), the anonymous author plagia-
rized David Hume’s footnote and wrote of the “five classes” of “Afri-
cans”: “1st, Negroes, 2d, Ourang Outangs, 3d, Apes, 4th, Baboons, and
5th Monkeys.”14

THOMAS JEFFERSON WAS spending even more time away from law in 1773
to oversee the building of his plantation, Monticello. But his mind, like
the minds of many rich men in the colonies, remained on building
100 tamped from the Beginning
a new nation. They were reeling from British debt, taxes, and man-
dates to trade within the empire. They had the most to gain in inde-
pendence and the most to lose under British colonialism. Politically,
they could not help but fear all those British abolitionists opposing
American slavery, toasting Phillis Wheatley, and freeing the Virginia
runaways. Financially, they could not help but salivate over all those
non-British markets for their goods, and all those non-British prod-
ucts they could consume, like the world-renowned sugar that French
enslavers forced Africans to grow in what is now Haiti. Rebel Virginia
legislators met in Williamsburg in 1774.
One of Virginia’s staunchest rebel legislators sent in a scorching
freedom manifesto, A Summary View of the Rights of British America. “Can
any one reason be assigned why 160,000 [British] electors” should
make laws for 4 million equal Americans? His majesty, said the author,
had rejected our “great object of desire” to abolish slavery and the
slave trade, and thus disregarded “the rights of human nature, deeply
wounded by this infamous practice.” Some politicians folded over in
disgust as they took in Thomas Jefferson’s rhetorical gunshot at slav-
ery. But “several of the author’s admirers” loved his clever turn: he had
blamed England for American slavery. Printed and circulated, Summary
View piloted Jefferson into the clouds of national recognition.15
The British (and some Americans) immediately began questioning
the authenticity of a slaveholder throwing a freedom manifesto at the
world. No one could question the authenticity of Phillis Wheatley’s
1774 words—“in every human Breast, God has implanted a Principle
which we call love of freedom”—or the Connecticut Blacks, who a few
years later had proclaimed, “We perceive by our own Reflection, that
we are endowed with the same Faculties with our masters, and there
is nothing that leads us to a Belief, or Suspicion, that we are any more
obliged to serve them, than they us.” All over Revolutionary America,
African people were rejecting the racist compact that asserted that
they were meant to be enslaved.16
Edward Long watched the rising tidal wave of abolitionism and
antiracism from his massive sugar plantation in Jamaica. He realized
that a new racial justification was badly needed to save slavery from
Bla k xhi its 101

being abolished. So, in 1774, he breathed new life into polygenesis by
issuing his massive book History of Jamaica. Why did it remain so diffi-
cult to see that Black people constituted “a different species”? he asked.
The ape had “in form a much nearer resemblance to the Negroe race,
than the latter bear to White men.” Just as Black people conceived a
passion for White people, apes “conceive[d] a passion for the Negroe
women,” Long reasoned, as John Locke once had.
Long dedicated a full chapter to discrediting the ability of Jamai-
ca’s old Francis Williams, with, he assured, “the impartiality that
becomes me.” Williams’s talents were the result of “the Northern air”
of Europe, he said. Long then contradictorily questioned Williams’s
talents, quoting Hume’s footnote. Long assailed Williams for looking
“down with sovereign contempt on his fellow Blacks,” as if Long did
not share that contempt. Williams self-identified as “a white man acting
under a black skin,” as Long described it. Williams’s proverbial saying,
he said, was, “Shew me a Negroe, and I will shew you a thief.”17
Later that year, Lord Kames, a Scottish judge and philosopher and
one of the engines of the Scottish Enlightenment, followed Long’s His-
tory with Sketches of the History of Man. The devastating treatise attacked
assimilationist thinking and tore apart monogenesis, which assumed
that all the races were one species. Kames’s book carried more force
than Long’s. Few thinkers in the Western world had the intellectual
pedigree of Lord Kames in 1774. He paraphrased Voltaire, another
supporter of polygenesis, explaining, “There are different [species] of
men as well as of dogs: a mastiff differs not more from a spaniel, than a
white man from a negro.” Climates created the species, but they could
not change one color to another, Kames maintained. Dismissing Adam
and Eve, Kames based his multiple creations on the Tower of Babel
story in Genesis.18
Polygenesists loved Sketches. Christian monogenesists bristled at its
blasphemy. But the concept of different creation stories and different
species started making sense to more and more people in the late eigh-
teenth century as they tried to come to grips with racial difference.
How else could they explain such glaring differences in skin color, in
culture, in wealth, and in the degree of freedom people enjoyed?
102 tamped from the Beginning
If someone had told Lord Kames that a German doctoral student,
fifty-six years his junior, would lead the initial charge against his theory
of polygenesis, the old jurist would probably have laughed. And he was
known for his sense of humor. Unlike Lord Kames, “I have written this
book quite unprejudiced,” the audacious young Johann Friedrich Blu-
menbach claimed in On the Natural Variety of Mankind. Environment—
not separate creations—caused the “variety in humans,” the German
wrote in 1775. Blumenbach followed Linnaeus in allotting four “classes
of inhabitants,” or races. “The first and most important to us . . . is that
of Europe,” he theorized. “All these nations regarded as a whole are
white in colour, and if compared with the rest, beautiful in form.”19
A full-blown debate on the origins of humans had exploded into the
European world during the American Revolution. Backing up Blumen-
bach against Long and Lord Kames was none other than the German
philosopher Immanuel Kant, soon to be widely heralded for his legend-
ary Critique of Pure Reason. Kant lectured on “the rule of Buffon,” that all
humans were one species from the “same natural genus.” Europe was the
cradle of humanity, “where man . . . must have departed the least from
his original formation.” The inhabitant of Europe had a “more beautiful
body, works harder, is more jocular, more controlled in his passions,
more intelligent than any other race of people in the world,” Kant lec-
tured. “Humanity is at its greatest perfection in the race of whites.”20
American intellectuals followed this debate between monogenesis
and polygenesis in the same way students would follow the debates of
their professors. And in following the racist debate, American intel-
lectuals followed the racist debaters. American enslavers and secular
intellectuals most likely lined up behind Lord Kames and other poly-
genesists. Abolitionists and theologians more likely lined up behind
Immanuel Kant and other monogenesists. But these American poly-
genesists and monogenesists had no problem coming together to
inflame public sentiment against England and dismiss their own atroci-
ties against enslaved Africans.
One man, Samuel Johnson, had no problem calling out Ameri-
cans on this hypocrisy. Johnson was perhaps the most illustrious lit-
erary voice in British history. When he opined about public debates,
Bla k xhi its 103

intellectuals in America and England alike paid attention. George
Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin were among
those who admired Johnson’s writings. Johnson did not return the
admiration. He loathed Americans’ hatred of authority, their greedy
rushes for wealth, their dependence on enslavement, and their way of
teaching Christianity to make Blacks docile: “I am willing to love all
mankind, except an American,” he once said.21
Benjamin Franklin had spent years across the water lobbying
English power for a relaxation of its colonial policies. He was argu-
ing that England was enslaving Americans, and regularly using the
analogy that England was making “American whites black.” All along,
Samuel Johnson hated this racist analogy. As Franklin sailed back to
America at the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War in 1775,
Johnson released Taxation No Tyranny. He defended the Coercive Acts,
judged Americans as inferior to the British, and advocated the arm-
ing of enslaved Africans. “How is it,” Johnson asked, “that we hear the
loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?” Someone in
the colonies had to officially answer the great Samuel Johnson. That
someone was Thomas Jefferson.22

Created Equal
ON JUNE 7, 1776, the delegates at the Second Continental Congress in
Philadelphia decided to draft an independence document. The task
fell to a thirty-three-year-old marginal delegate, who distinguished
himself as a willing and talented writer as he carried out their instruc-
tions. The older and more distinguished delegates felt they had more
important things to do: addressing the convention, drafting state con-
stitutions, and wartime planning.1
For years, European intellectuals like France’s Buffon and England’s
Samuel Johnson had projected Americans, their ways, their land, their
animals, and their people as naturally inferior to everything European.
Thomas Jefferson disagreed. At the beginning of the Declaration of
Independence, he paraphrased the Virginia constitution, indelibly
penning: “all Men are created equal.”
It is impossible to know for sure whether Jefferson meant to
include his enslaved laborers (or women) in his “all Men.” Was he
merely emphasizing the equality of White Americans and the English?
Later in the document, he did scold the British for “exciting those very
people to rise in arms among us”—those “people” being resisting Afri-
cans. Did Jefferson insert “created equal” as a nod to the swirling debate
between monogenesis and polygenesis? Even if Jefferson believed all
groups to be “created equal,” he never believed the antiracist creed
that all human groups are equal. But his “all Men are created equal”
was revolutionary nonetheless; it even propelled Vermont and Mas-
sachusetts to abolish slavery. To uphold polygenesis and slavery, six

Created qual 105

southern slaveholding states inserted “All freemen are created equal”
into their constitutions.2
Continuing the Declaration, Jefferson maintained that “Men” were
“endowed by their creator with inherent and inalienable rights; that
among these are life, liberty, & the pursuit of happiness.” As a holder of
nearly two hundred people with no known plans to free them, Thomas
Jefferson authored the heralded American philosophy of freedom.
What did it mean for Jefferson to call “liberty” an “inalienable right”
when he enslaved people? It is not hard to figure out what Native
Americans, enslaved Africans, and indentured White servants meant
when they demanded liberty in 1776. But what about Jefferson and
other slaveholders like him, whose wealth and power were dependent
upon their land and their slaves? Did they desire unbridled freedom to
enslave and exploit? Did they perceive any reduction in their power to
be a reduction in their freedom? For these rich men, freedom was not
the power to make choices; freedom was the power to create choices.
England created the choices, the policies American elites had to abide
by, just as planters created choices and policies that laborers had to
follow. Only power gave Jefferson and other wealthy White colonists
freedom from England. For Jefferson, power came before freedom.
Indeed, power creates freedom, not the other way around—as the
powerless are taught.
“To secure these rights,” Jefferson continued, “it is the right of the
people . . . to institute a new government . . . organizing its powers in
such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety &
happiness.” As Jefferson sat forward on his Windsor chair and penned
this thrilling call for revolutionary action, thousands of Africans were
taking matters into their own hands, too, running away from their
plantations, setting up their own governments on the frontier, or fight-
ing with the British—all to “effect their safety & happiness.” In South
Carolina, there emerged a three-sided conflict, with as many as 20,000
Africans asserting their own interests. An estimated two-thirds of
enslaved Africans in Georgia ran away. According to Jefferson’s own
calculations, Virginia lost as many as 30,000 enslaved Africans in a sin-
gle year. Of course, racist planters could not admit that Black runaways
106 tamped from the Beginning
were self-reliant enough to effect their own safety and happiness—to
be free. South Carolina planters blamed British soldiers for “stealing”
Blacks or persuading them to “desert” their masters.3
Thomas Jefferson only really handed revolutionary license to his
band of wealthy, White, male revolutionaries. He criminalized run-
aways in the Declaration of Independence, and he silenced women.
Boston delegate John Adams sent a letter home to his wife, Abigail,
to “laugh” at her strivings for women’s rights. White “children and
Apprentices were disobedient” as a result of “our struggle,” Adams
said the delegates had been told. “Indians slighted their guardians and
Negroes grew insolent to their Masters.” Now she had informed him
that women were also “discontented.”4
After outlining more justifications for independence in his Dec-
laration, Jefferson listed the “long train of abuses & usurpations” by
the British monopolists, like “cutting off our trade with all parts of
the world.” The inability of American merchants and planters to do
business with merchants and planters outside the British Empire had
checked their freedoms in buying and selling African people to and
from anyone, in buying cheaper or better products from non-British
sources, in selling their slave-grown crops and manufactured goods
outside of Britannica, and in escaping the subjugation of British mer-
chants and banks. Jefferson and his freedom-fighting class of aspiring
international free traders gained a powerful ally in 1776. Scottish phi-
losopher Adam Smith condemned England’s trade acts for constrain-
ing the “free” market in his instant best seller, The Wealth of Nations.
To this founding father of capitalist economics, the wealth of nations
stemmed from a nation’s productive capacity, a productive capacity
African nations lacked. “All the inland parts of Africa,” he scripted,
“seem in all ages of the world to have been in the same barbarous and
uncivilized state in which we find them at present.” Meanwhile, Smith
praised Americans for “contriving a new form of government for an
extensive empire, which . . . seems very likely to become, one of the
greatest and most formidable that ever was in the world.” The found-
ing fathers beamed reading Adam Smith’s prediction. Jefferson later
called Wealth of Nations “the best book extant” on political economy.5
Created qual 107

Jefferson saved the worst of the king’s abuses for last in his Dec-
laration. Ever the lawyer, ever the wordsmith, he fought back against
Samuel Johnson’s charge of American hypocrisy. The English crown,
Jefferson wrote, which had prevented Americans from abolishing slav-
ery, was now freeing and arming enslaved Africans to maintain British
enslavement over Americans, “thus paying off former crimes commit-
ted against the li erties of one people, with crimes which [the king]
urged them to commit against the lives of another.”6
Rhode Island pastor Samuel Hopkins, an antislavery Puritan, would
have found Jefferson’s passage laughable. He had just sent the con-
gress A Dialogue concerning the Slavery of the Africans. Americans’ so-called
enslavement to the British was “lighter than a feather” compared to
Africans’ enslavement to Americans, Hopkins argued. The electrify-
ing antiracist pamphlet nearly overshadowed the Quakers’ demand in
1776 for all Friends to manumit their slaves or face banishment. “Our
education has filled us with strong prejudices against them,” Hopkins
professed, “and led us to consider them, not as our brethren, or in any
degree on a level with us; but as quite another species of animals, made
only to serve us and our children.” Hopkins became the first major
Christian leader outside of the Society of Friends to forcefully oppose
slavery, but he sat lonely on the pew of antislavery in 1776. Other
preachers stayed away from the pew, and so did the delegates declar-
ing independence. No one had to tell them that their revolutionary
avowals were leaking in contradictions. Nothing could persuade slave-
holding American patriots to put an end to their inciting proclama-
tions of British slavery, or to their enriching enslavement of African
people. Forget contradictions. Both were in their political and eco-
nomic self-interest.7
By July 2, 1776, the resolution to declare independence had
passed. The delegates then peered over Jefferson’s draft like barbers
over a head of hair. Every time they trimmed, changed, or added
something, the hypersensitive Jefferson sank deeper into his chair.
Benjamin Franklin, sitting next to him, failed to cheer him up. The
delegates cut Jefferson’s long passage calling the English hypocrites.
Apparently, delegates from South Carolina and Georgia disliked
108 tamped from the Beginning
Jefferson’s characterization of slavery as a “cruel war against human
nature”; that language threatened the foundation of their vast estates.
The delegates finished making their revisions of the Declaration of
Independence on July 4, 1776.8

OVER THE NEXT five years, the fighting remained pitched. But the Brit-
ish failed to crush the revolt. On January 5, 1781, in one of their last-
ditch efforts, the Redcoats reached the outskirts of Richmond. British
soldiers were hunting Virginia’s governor as if he were a runaway.
With 10,000 acres of land in his possession to choose from, Governor
Thomas Jefferson hid his family on an inherited property about ninety
miles southwest of Monticello. There, in hiding, Jefferson finally found
the time to answer the twenty-three “Queries” that French diplomat
François Barbé-Marbois had sent to the thirteen American governors
in 1780.
The Frenchman asked for information on each colony’s history,
government, natural resources, geography, and population. Only
a few responded, none as comprehensively as Thomas Jefferson. A
new member of Philadelphia’s American Philosophical Society, Jeffer-
son had collected thousands of books for his Monticello library and
enjoyed a scholarly challenge. He titled his book of answers Notes on
the State of Virginia. He wrote for French diplomats and intellectuals as
well as close friends in America. He sent Barbé-Marbois the manu-
script by the end of 1781.
With no intention to publish, Jefferson unabashedly expressed
his views on Black people, and in particular on potentially freed Black
people. “Incorporating the [freed] blacks into the state” was out of
the question, he declared. “Deep rooted prejudices entertained by
the whites; ten thousand recollections, by the blacks, of the injuries
they have sustained; new provocations; the real distinctions which
nature has made; and many other circumstances, will divide us into
parties, and produce convulsions, which will probably never end but
in the extermination of the one or the other race.” This hodgepodge
of thoughts was classic Jefferson, classically both antislavery and
Created qual 109

anti-abolition—with a segregationist dose of nature’s distinctions, and
an antiracist dose acknowledging White prejudice and discrimination.9
Revolutionary War general George Washington had a different
take on the prejudices. When asked to join an antislavery petition
campaign in 1785, he did not think the time was right. “It would be
dangerous to make a frontal attack on a prejudice which is beginning
to decrease,” Washington advised. Prejudice beginning to decrease
in 1785? However General Washington came to this conclusion,
the soon-to-be first president sounded one of the first drumbeats of
supposed racial progress to drown out the passionate arguments of
Thomas Jefferson did propose a frontal attack on slavery in Notes
on the State of Virginia, a plan he would endorse for the rest of his life:
the mass schooling, emancipation, and colonization of Africans back
to Africa. Jefferson, who enslaved Blacks at Monticello, listed “the
real distinctions which nature has made,” that is, those traits that he
believed made free Black incorporation into the new nation impossi-
ble. Whites were more beautiful, he wrote, as shown by Blacks’ “pref-
erence of them.” He was paraphrasing Edward Long (and John Locke)
in the passage—but it was still ironic that the observation came from
the pen of a man who may have already preferred a Black woman.11
Black people had a memory on par with Whites, Jefferson contin-
ued, but “in reason [were] much inferior.” He then paused to mask his
racist ideas in scientific neutrality: “It would be unfair to follow them
to Africa for this investigation. We will consider them here, on the
same stage with the whites, and where the facts are not apocryphal
on which a judgment is to be formed.” On this “same stage,” he could
“never . . . find that a black had uttered a thought above the level of
plain narration; never saw an elementary trait of painting or sculpture.”
“Religion,” he said, “indeed has produced a Phyllis Wheatley; but it
could not produce a poet.”12
With Notes on the State of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson emerged as
the preeminent American authority on Black intellectual inferiority.
This status would persist over the next fifty years. Jefferson did not
mention the innumerable enslaved Africans who learned to be highly
110 tamped from the Beginning
intelligent blacksmiths, shoemakers, bricklayers, coopers, carpenters,
engineers, manufacturers, artisans, musicians, farmers, midwives,
physicians, overseers, house managers, cooks, and bi- and trilingual
translators—all of the workers who made his Virginia plantation and
many others almost entirely self-sufficient. Jefferson had to ignore his
own advertisements for skilled runaways and the many advertisements
from other planters calling for the return of their valuable skilled cap-
tives, who were “remarkably smart and sensible,” and “very ingenious
at any work.” One wonders whether Jefferson really believed his own
words. Did Jefferson really believe Black people were smart in slavery
and stupid in freedom?13
Notes on the State of Virginia was replete with other contradictory
ideas about Black people. “They are at least as brave, and more adven-
turesome” than Whites, because they lacked the forethought to see
“danger till it be present,” Jefferson wrote. Africans felt love more, but
they felt pain less, he said, and “their existence appears to participate
more of sensation than reflection.” That is why they were disposed
“to sleep when abstracted from their diversions, and unemployed in
labour. An animal whose body is at rest, and who does not reflect,
must be disposed to sleep of course.” But on the previous page, Jef-
ferson cast Blacks as requiring “less sleep. A black, after hard labour
through the day, will be induced by the slightest amusements to sit
up till midnight.” In Jefferson’s vivid imagination, lazy Blacks desired
to sleep more than Whites, but, as physical savants, they required less
While Jefferson confidently labeled enslaved Africans as inferior
to Roman slaves, for Native Americans he cried that the comparison
“would be unequal.” While confidently making distinctions between
Blacks and Whites, Jefferson equated Native Americans and Whites.
As he told François-Jean de Chastellux, who served as liaison between
the French and American militaries during the Revolutionary War,
Native Americans were “in body and mind equal to the whiteman.” He
“supposed the blackman in his present state, might not be so”: “But it
would be hazardous to affirm that, equally cultivated for a few genera-
tions, he would not become so.” For Jefferson, clarity always seemed to
Created qual 111

be lacking when it came to racial conceptions. This note proved to be
the clearest expression of his assimilationist ideas.
The reason for Native Americans having fewer children than
Whites was “not in a difference of nature, but of circumstance,” Jef-
ferson argued. For Black people, the opposite was true. “The blacks,”
he said, “whether originally a distinct race, or made distinct by time
and circumstances, are inferior to the whites in the endowments both
of body and mind.” The ambitious politician, maybe fearful of alienat-
ing potential friends, maybe torn between Enlightenment antislavery
and American proslavery, maybe honestly unsure, did not pick sides
between polygenesists and monogenesists, between segregationists
and assimilationists, between slavery and freedom. But he did pick the
side of racism.15

IN 1782, JEFFERSON had no plans to publish Notes on the State of Virginia.

He was busy putting his life back together, a life torn apart by thirteen
years of public service, and by months of being hunted by the British.
War had shattered Jefferson’s past. Martha Jefferson’s death on Sep-
tember 6 of that year shattered his future. He had planned to retire
and grow old as a planter and scholar in the seclusion of Monticello
next to his wife. Overnight, the sanctuary of Monticello became the
caged pen of Monticello, bordered by bars of wounding memories. He
had to escape. His friends in Congress found a solution.16
On August 6, 1784, Jefferson arrived in Paris for a new diplomatic
stint eager to take advantage of the shopping, the shows, the culture,
and the trading prospects. The same week that he made contact with
the French foreign minister, Jefferson sent instructions to Monti-
cello to speed up production. He figured that his own captives, and
his nation’s captives, would be tasked for the foreseeable future with
producing enough tobacco for French merchants to pay back British
creditors. At the same time, Jefferson was busy telling abolitionists,
“Nobody wishes more ardently [than me] to see an abolition.” Jeffer-
son loathed slavery almost as much as he feared losing American free-
dom to British banks, or losing his pampered lifestyle in Monticello.
112 tamped from the Beginning
He liked and disliked both freedom and slavery, and he never divorced
himself from either.17
Economic diplomacy was Jefferson’s official job. His hobby was
science, and he partnered with Benjamin Franklin, who was also in
Paris, to defend America from French onslaughts of American inferi-
ority. Jefferson brought his still unpublished Notes on the State of Virginia
and “an uncommonly large panther skin” in his baggage. He had two
hundred English copies of his Notes printed in Paris in 1785. He sent the
manuscript to French intellectuals, to Benjamin Franklin, and to John
Adams, James Madison, and James Monroe. A copy reached a devious
printer who without Jefferson’s approval translated it into French in
1786. Jefferson arranged for an English edition to be released in Lon-
don on his own terms in the summer of 1787. Thereafter, Notes on the
State of Virginia would become the most consumed American nonfiction
book until well into the mid-nineteenth century.
Count Constantine Volney, known in France as Herodotus’s biog-
rapher, was putting his finishing touches on Travels in Syria and Egypt
when he read Notes and befriended its author. When Volney first saw
the Sphinx in Egypt, he remembered Herodotus—the foremost his-
torian in ancient Greece—describing the “black and frizzled hair” of
the ancient Egyptians. Making the connection to the present, Volney
mused, “To the race of negroes, at present our slaves, and the objects
of our extreme contempt, we owe our arts, sciences, and even the use
of speech itself.” American racists ridiculed Volney as an ignorant wor-
shiper of Black people when he visited the United States in 1796. Not
Jefferson. He invited Volney and his antiracist ideas and his history of
Black ancient Egypt to Monticello. How could Jefferson—the author-
ity of Black intellectual inferiority—look to Volney as the authority
of ancient Egypt? Clearly, scientific truths were forever tugging at his
Thomas Jefferson visited southern France and northern Italy in
February 1787. “If I should happen to die in Paris I will beg of you
to send me here,” Jefferson wrote in awe of the beautiful country-
side of Aix-en-Provence. When he returned to Paris in June, he may
have noticed a copy of the year’s annual oration of the American
Created qual 113

Philosophical Society (APS), which had been delivered by Princeton
theologian Samuel Stanhope Smith. The annual APS oration was the
most heralded scholarly lecture in the new nation, and APS members
were a who’s who of American power: men like Ben Franklin of Penn-
sylvania, Alexander Hamilton of New York, and Virginia’s Jefferson,
James Madison, and George Washington. Smith’s oration before APS
stood for all intents and purposes as the first great domestic challenge
to Jefferson’s Notes.19
Smith had been pondering assimilationist climate theory for some
time. He may have learned it first from Buffon, or from James Bow-
doin’s opening oration of the newly established American Academy
of Arts and Sciences in Boston on May 4, 1780. As the founder and
first president of the Academy, as one of Massachusetts’ political lead-
ers, Bowdoin’s address to some of the nation’s leading intellectuals and
politicians in Boston probably circulated down to Smith’s New Jersey.
If the “natural faculties” of Europeans and Africans were “unequal, as
probably is the case,” Bowdoin proclaimed, then we know the reason:
climate. Hot climates destroyed the mind and body. In moderate cli-
mates in northern America and Europe, humankind would be “capable
of greater exertions of both mind and body.” Samuel Stanhope Smith
may also have learned climate theory from John Morgan, the founder
of the University of Pennsylvania’s medical school. Morgan exhibited
two whitening two-year-olds to APS members in 1784. “We meet with
few negroes of so beautiful a form,” Morgan said at the time.20
Samuel Stanhope Smith titled his 1787 lecture “An Essay on the
Causes of the Variety of Complexion and Figure in the Human Spe-
cies.” He described two causes of human variety: climate and state of
society. Hot weather bred physical disorders—like kinky hair, which
was “the farthest removed from the ordinary laws of nature.” Cold
weather was “followed by a contrary effect”: it cured these ailments,
Smith suggested, leaning on Buffon.
In addition to changing climate, a change in the state of society
could remove the stamp of Blackness, Smith maintained. Just look at
the house slaves. In their nearness to White society, they were acquir-
ing “the agreeable and regular features” of civilized society—light
114 tamped from the Beginning
complexion, straight hair, thin lips. “Europeans, and Americans are,
the most beautiful people in the world, chiefly, because their state of
society is the most improved.” In the end, this assimilationist made
sure to disassociate himself from Lord Kames and polygenesis. From
only “one pair”—Adam and Eve in Europe—“all of the families of the
earth [have] sprung,” Smith closed.21
Using European features as the standard of measurement, Smith
judged light skin and thin lips on Blacks to be more beautiful than
dark skin and full lips. He also distinguished between “good hair”—the
straighter and longer the better—and “bad hair,” the kinkier and shorter
the worse. He positioned biracial people as superior to African people.
In slavery and freedom, as usually the offspring of planters, biracial
people oftentimes benefited from a higher social status than people of
only African descent, and often they experienced less discrimination
as well. Biracial people were probably more likely to have to perform
the backbreaking tasks of the household, and they were often under
closer supervision by planters than the slaves in the field, which could
be just as backbreaking in a way, if not sexually abusive. Despite their
elevated status, they still felt terror of the enslavers, and some anti-
racist biracial people partnered with Africans to resist White suprem-
acy. Others were no different from White racists in their thinking,
discriminating against dark-skinned Blacks, and rationalizing the dis-
crimination, and their elevated status, through notions of their own
superiority. In the late eighteenth century, biracial people in Charles-
ton barred dark-skinned people from their business network, the
Brown Fellowship Society. In response, the Society of Free Dark Men
appeared in that South Carolina town.22
The American Philosophical Society thanked Samuel Stanhope
Smith for “his ingenious and learned Oration” in the minutes. After
outlining the position of climate theorists—seemingly the dominant
strain of racial thought among northern elites—Smith added a long
appendix to the published pamphlet attacking Lord Kames and poly-
genesis. Races were not fixed and “fitted for different climates,” Smith
argued. “The Goths, the Mogus, the Africans have become infinitely
meliorated by changing those skies, for which it is said they were
Created qual 115

peculiarly fitted by nature.” Smith breathlessly asserted that the slave
trade—the cause of millions of deaths—had substantially improved
the African condition.23
Samuel Stanhope Smith joined those preeminent intellectuals in
Boston’s American Academy of Arts and Sciences and Philadelphia’s
American Philosophical Society in attacking polygenesists, in reviv-
ing climate theory in America. His scholarly defense of scripture was
quickly printed in Philadelphia, in London, and in Lord Kames’s back-
yard, Edinburgh. By the time he sat down in Princeton’s presidential
chair in 1795, he had amassed an international scholarly reputation.

FROM HIS HOME in Paris, Jefferson was closely following—but not

closely influencing—the events of the Constitutional Convention. It
had begun in Philadelphia on May 25, 1787, months after Samuel Stan-
hope Smith had addressed some of the delegates on race. Jefferson’s
powerful Declaration of Independence had resulted in years of violent
struggle against the British, and then in a weak and powerless Confed-
eration of states. Faced with an empty national treasury, erratic trade
policies, international disrespect, and fears of the union falling apart,
American leaders returned to the nation-building table. If it was left up
to the delegates, some of whom were APS members, Smith’s annual
oration would have been the Philadelphia convention’s only serious
discussion of race and slavery that year.
In fact, delegates made it clear that slavery would be left out of the
conversation. Antislavery discussions were disallowed in drawing up
what the writers were pegging as humankind’s ultimate constitution of
freedom. It only took a few weeks, though, for slavery and its baggage
to creep into the constitutional deliberations. Once opened, the ques-
tion of slavery never left.
The constitutional debate centered on the issue of the states’ rep-
resentation in the federal legislature. On a scorching hot June 11, 1787,
South Carolina delegate John Rutledge rose at Independence Hall.
The former South Carolina governor and future chief justice of the
US Supreme Court motioned once again for representation based on
116 tamped from the Beginning
taxes (since slaveholding states paid disproportionately high taxes, and
thus would monopolize political power). Rutledge was seconded once
more by fellow South Carolinian Major Pierce Butler, owner of five
hundred people by 1793. Pennsylvania’s James Wilson, another future
Supreme Court justice, practically forecasted Rutledge’s motion and
had a plan. Rutledge may have been in on that plan.
Wilson offered an alternative: “representation in proportion to the
whole number of white & other free Citizens & inhabitants  .  .  . and
three-fifths of all other persons not comprehended in the foregoing
description, except Indians not paying taxes.” The only delegate who
pounced on the three-fifths “compromise” was Massachusetts abo-
litionist and future vice president Elbridge Gerry. “Blacks are prop-
erty, and are used [in the South] . . . as horses and cattle are [in the
North],” Gerry stammered out. So “why should their representation
be increased to the southward on account of the number of slaves,
[rather] than [on the basis of] horses or oxen to the north?”
Gerry looked around. Silence looked back. No one was prepared
to answer the unanswerable. A vote sprung from the quietness: 9–2 in
favor of the three-fifths clause. A deadlocked Massachusetts abstained.
Only New Jersey and Delaware voted against Wilson’s compromise.24
Equating enslaved Blacks to three-fifths of all other (White) per-
sons matched the ideology of racists on both sides of the aisle. Both
assimilationists and segregationists argued, yet with different premises
and conclusions, that Black people were simultaneously human and
subhuman. Assimilationists stridently declared the capability of sub-
White, sub-human Blacks to become whole, five-fifths, White, one day.
For segregationists, three-fifths offered a mathematical approximation
of inherent and permanent Black inferiority. They may have disagreed
on the rationale and the question of permanence, but seemingly all
embraced Black inferiority—and in the process enshrined the power
of slaveholders and racist ideas in the nation’s founding document.
By September 17, 1787, delegates in Philadelphia had extracted
“slave” and “slavery” from the signed US Constitution to hide their
racist enslavement policies. These policies hardly fit with securing “the
Blessing of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” Then again, for the
Created qual 117

delegates, slavery brought freedom. And other policies of the US Con-
stitution, such as empowering federal troops to suppress slave revolts
and deliver up runaways like “criminals,” ensured slavery’s continuance.
The language was taken from the Northwest Ordinance, which had
been issued earlier in the year. It forbade Blacks, slave or free, in terri-
tories north of Ohio and east of Mississippi. After a bitter debate, the
delegates in Philadelphia put in place provisions for eliminating the
slave trade in twenty years, a small triumph, since only Georgia and
North Carolina allowed slave imports in the summer of 1787.25

ON JULY 15, 1787, eight-year-old Polly Jefferson and fourteen-year-old

Sally Hemings reached Jefferson’s Paris doorstep. Sally Hemings had
come to Monticello as an infant in 1773 as part of Martha Jefferson’s
inheritance from her father. John Wayles had fathered six children
with his biracial captive Elizabeth Hemings. Sally was the youngest.
By 1787, she was reportedly “very handsome, [with] long straight hair
down her back,” and she accompanied Polly to Paris instead of an “old
As his peers penned the US Constitution, Jefferson began a sexual
relationship with Sally Hemings. Her older brother James, meanwhile,
was training as a chef in Paris to satisfy Jefferson’s gustatory desires.
Hemings was more or less forced to settle for the overtures of a sex-
ually aggressive forty-four-year-old (Jefferson also pursued a married
local Frenchwoman at the time). Jefferson pursued Hemings as he
arranged for the publication of Notes in London. He did not revise his
previously stated opinions about Blacks; nor did he remove the pas-
sage about Whites being more beautiful than Blacks.27
Jefferson had always assailed interracial relationships between
White women and Black or biracial men. Before arriving in Paris, he
had lobbied, unsuccessfully, for Virginia’s White women to be banished
(instead of merely fined) for bearing the child of a Black or biracial
man. Even after his measure was defeated, even after his relations with
Hemings began, and even after the relations matured and he had time
to reflect on his own hypocrisy, Jefferson did not stop proclaiming his
118 tamped from the Beginning
public position. “Amalgamation with the other color, produces degra-
dation to which no lover of his country, no lover of excellence in the
human character, can innocently consent,” he wrote in 1814, after he
had fathered several biracial children. Like so many men who spoke
out against “amalgamation” in public, and who degraded Black or bira-
cial women’s beauty in public, Jefferson hid his actual views in the
privacy of his mind and bedroom.28
In 1789, Jefferson had a front-row seat to the anti-royal unrest in
Paris that launched the French Revolution. He assisted his friend the
Marquis de Lafayette in writing the Declaration of the Rights of Man
and of the Citizen, adopted in August, weeks before his departure. But
while putting the starting touches on the French Revolution and the
finishing touches on the American Revolution, Jefferson had to deal
with a revolt from sixteen-year-old Sally Hemings. She was pregnant
with his child, refused to return to slavery, and planned to petition
French officials for her freedom. Jefferson did the only thing he could
do: “He promised her extraordinary privileges, and made a solemn
pledge that her children should be freed,” according to an account
Hemings told their son Madison. “In consequence of his promise, on
which she implicitly relied, she returned with him to Virginia,” Madi-
son wrote in his diary. Hemings gave birth to at least five and possibly
as many as seven children from Jefferson, a paternity confirmed by
DNA tests and documents proving they were together nine months
prior to the birth of each of Sally’s children. Some of the children died
young, but Jefferson kept his word and freed their remaining children
when they reached adulthood.29
Upon his return from Paris, Jefferson agreed, after some waver-
ing, to become the first US secretary of state in George Washington’s
inaugural administration. Beginning his tenure on March 22, 1790, Jef-
ferson quickly felt uncomfortable surrounded by all those aristocratic,
anti-republican cabinet members in America’s first political party, the
Federalists. Vice President John Adams was questioning the effective-
ness of “equal laws.” Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton
was quietly calling for a monarchy; he wanted to hand control of the
economy over to financiers, and he pushed for close (or, in Jefferson’s
Created qual 119

conception, subordinate) economic ties to Britain. Jefferson took solace
watching the French Revolution. That is, until it spilled over into
Haiti. In 1790, Haiti’s enslavers saw the Declaration of the Rights of
Man (Article 1: “Men are born and remain free and equal in rights”)
as a green light for their independence drive and for their demands
for new trade relations to increase their wealth. Free and affluent bira-
cial activists numbering almost 30,000 (slightly less than the White
population) started driving for their civil rights. Close to half a mil-
lion enslaved Africans, who were producing about half the world’s
sugar and coffee in the most profitable European colony in the world,
heard these curious cries for rights and liberty among the island’s free
people. On August 22, 1791, enslaved Africans revolted, inspired in
more ways than one by Vodou priest Dutty Boukman. They emerged
as the fourth faction in the civil war between White royalists, White
independence seekers, and free biracial activists.30
It was a civil war that no slaveholder, including Thomas Jeffer-
son, wanted enslaved Africans to win. If these Black freedom fighters
could declare their independence and win it on the richest soil of the
Americas, then their nation would become the hemispheric symbol of
freedom, not Jefferson’s United States. Enslaved peoples everywhere
would be inspired by that symbol and fight for their freedom, and
there was nothing that racist ideas could do anymore to stop them.

Uplift Suasion
AS FREED PEOPLE in Haiti were warring against French re-enslavers, a
prominent free Black man in Maryland sat down to write to Thomas
Jefferson. The man’s grandmother, Mary Welsh, had come to Maryland
in the 1680s as an indentured servant. After finishing her indenture, she
acquired some land and two Black captives, freed them, and married one,
named Bannaka. This interracial family defied White males’ insistence
that White women not marry Black men. Their biracial daughter, Mary,
married an enslaved man named Robert. Mary and Robert birthed a free
son in 1731 and named him Benjamin. As Benjamin came of age, “all he
liked was to dive into books,” remembered an observer. Friendly White
neighbors were constantly loaning him books. Proceeds from growing
tobacco on his inherited farm—he was as adept a farmer as anything
else—gave Benjamin Banneker the time to read and think and write.1
Few free Blacks had the leisure time to read and write in Ban-
neker’s day. As soon as they shook off slavery’s shackles, the shackles
of discrimination clamped down on them. Northern states, in gradu-
ally eliminating slave labor during the Revolutionary era, made almost
no moves—gradual or otherwise—to end racial discrimination and
thereby racist ideas. Proposals to ensure the manageability of African
people by former masters, as if they were more naturally slave than
free, shadowed abolition proposals. Discriminatory policies were a
feature of almost every emancipation law.2
Debates about the future of slavery and the characteristics of
enslaved Blacks, both in Congress and between prominent intellectuals,

plift uasion 121

only reinforced the climate of racism and discrimination that plagued
free Blacks like Banneker. Benjamin Franklin, who had become head
of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, spent some of his last days try-
ing to resolve the world’s greatest political contradiction: America’s
freedom and slavery. In early 1790, the eighty-four-year-old trudged
before Congress to give what one narrator called “a memorial.” Chris-
tianity and the “political creed of Americans” demand the removal of
this “inconsistency from the land of liberty,” Franklin implored. He
conceded that Blacks too often fell below “the common standard of
the human species,” but he urged his peers to “step to the very verge of
the power vested in you.”
Franklin’s speech and a torrent of Quaker emancipation petitions
aroused a bitter boxing match over slavery in the First US Congress.
It carried on for months after Franklin’s death on April 17, 1790. Black
people were “indolent, improvident, averse to labor; when emanci-
pated, they would either starve or plunder,” one congressman argued,
defending the interests of southern planters who were dependent on
slave labor. Blacks were “an inferior race even to the Indians,” another
insisted. A northern congressman held that southerners would never
submit to a general emancipation without civil war. As they argued
over slavery, congressmen paused to unite for the first Naturalization
Act on March 26, 1790, which limited citizenship to “free white per-
sons” of “good character.”3
The congressional slavery debate dribbled into the rest of society.
Assimilationists challenged segregationists, stressing Black capability
for equality if Blacks were not under the imbruting boot of slavery.
Critiquing David Hume, citing Samuel Stanhope Smith, and parading
out a line of Black exhibits, from Sancho to Phillis Wheatley, Penn-
sylvania abolitionist Charles Crawford asserted that the “Negro is in
every respect similar to us.” In 1791, Quaker Moses Brown pointed to
Black exhibits from his Providence school as proof of “their being Men
capable of Every Improvement with ourselves where they [are] under
the Same Advantages.” Benjamin Rush, perhaps the nation’s leading
abolitionist after Franklin’s death, presented adult exhibits: New Orle-
ans physician James Derham and Thomas “Negro Calculator” Fuller
122 tamped from the Beginning
of Maryland. Legend has it that it took Fuller only a few minutes to
calculate the number of seconds a man aged seventy years, seventeen
days, and twelve hours had lived. But these remarkable exhibits of
remarkable Black adults and children did little to sway the proslavery
mind. Enslavers probably knew more than anyone about Black capabil-
ities in freedom. But they only cared about Black capabilities to make
them money.4
As quite possibly the most remarkable exhibit of them all, Ben-
jamin Banneker was literally in the middle of these debates between
assimilationist abolitionists and segregationist enslavers. And so was
Thomas Jefferson, agreeing and disagreeing with both sides. Early in
1791, months before writing to Jefferson, Banneker had helped survey
the nation’s new capital, Washington, DC.
Banneker began his letter “freely and cheerfully” acknowledging
that he was “of the African race.” If Jefferson was flexible in his senti-
ments of nature, friendly to Black people, and willing to aid in their relief,
Banneker wrote, then “I apprehend you will embrace every opportunity,
to eradicate that train of absurd and false ideas and opinions.” Jefferson
and his slaveholding countrymen who were “detaining by fraud and vio-
lence so numerous a part of my brethren,” but who assailed against Brit-
ish oppression, were walking, talking contradictions. Banneker closed
the letter by introducing his enclosed unpublished almanac, “in my own
hand writing.” Banneker’s letter was staunchly antiracist, a direct con-
frontation to the young country’s leading disseminator of racist ideas.5
Nearly two weeks later, on August 30, 1791, Thomas Jefferson
sent Banneker his standard reply to antislavery and antiracist letters.
“No body wishes more than I,” he said, to see the end of prejudice
and slavery. He informed Banneker that he had sent the almanac to
Monsieur de Condorcet, the secretary of the Academy of Science in
Paris, because “your whole colour had a right for their justification
against the doubts which have been entertained of them.” Jefferson
sidestepped his contradiction. But what could he say? In his letter to
Condorcet, Jefferson called Banneker a “very respectable mathemati-
cian.” In Notes, he claimed that Black people did not think “above the
level of plain narration.” Did Banneker change Jefferson’s mind? Yes
plift uasion 123

and no. Jefferson branded Banneker an extraordinary Negro. “I shall
be delighted to see these instances of moral eminence so multiplied,”
he told Condorcet.6

FROM THE PERSPECTIVE of the enslaved, the most profound instance of

moral eminence was evolving in Haiti. Jefferson learned of the Black
revolt on September 8, 1791. Within two months, a force of 100,000
African freedom-fighters had killed more than 4,000 enslavers,
destroyed almost 200 plantations, and gained control of the entire
Northern Province. As historian C. L. R. James explained in the
1930s, “they were seeking their salvation in the most obvious way, the
destruction of what they knew was the cause of their sufferings; and if
they destroyed much it was because they had suffered much.” 7
What Jefferson and every other holder of African people had long
feared had come to pass. In response, Congress passed the Fugitive
Slave Act of 1793, bestowing on slaveholders the right and legal appa-
ratus to recover escaped Africans and criminalize those who harbored
them. Thomas Jefferson, for one, did not view the Haitian Revolution
in the same guise as the American or French Revolutions. “Never was
so deep a tragedy presented to the feelings of man,” he wrote in July
1793. To Jefferson, the slave revolt against the enslavers was more evil
and tragic to the feelings of man than the millions of African people
who died on American plantations. Jefferson would soon call General
Toussaint L’Ouverture and other Haitian leaders “Cannibals of the ter-
rible Republic.”8
That year, Jefferson’s troubles over revolting Haitians also hit
closer to home. A ship or two of distressed masters and slaves from
Haiti arrived in Philadelphia in late July. Philadelphians started dying
a week later. By August 20, 1793, Benjamin Rush had fatefully noticed
the pattern of the contagion of yellow fever. But it was not yet an epi-
demic, so Rush had time in the late summer to attend to other matters.
He possibly sent off letters to abolitionists around the nation. The
next year, he welcomed to Philadelphia twenty-two delegates from
abolitionist societies across the United States as they arrived for the
124 tamped from the Beginning
“American Convention for promoting the Abolition of Slavery and
Improving the Condition of the African Race.” The convention met
over the next few years and then sporadically over the next three
decades, pressing for gradual emancipation, anti-kidnapping legisla-
tion, and civil rights for alleged runaways.
As freed Blacks proliferated in the 1790s and the number of
enslaved Blacks began to decline in the North, the racial discourse
shifted from the problems of enslavement to the condition and capa-
bilities of free Blacks. The American Convention delegates believed
that the future advance of abolitionism depended on how Black people
used their freedom. Periodically, the convention published and cir-
culated advice tracts for free Blacks. Abolitionists urged free Blacks
to attend church regularly, acquire English literacy, learn math, adopt
trades, avoid vice, legally marry and maintain marriages, evade law-
suits, avoid expensive delights, abstain from noisy and disorderly con-
duct, always act in a civil and respectable manner, and develop habits
of industry, sobriety, and frugality. If Black people behaved admirably,
abolitionists reasoned, they would be undermining justifications for
slavery and proving that notions of their inferiority were wrong.9
This strategy of what can be termed uplift suasion was based on
the idea that White people could be persuaded away from their rac-
ist ideas if they saw Black people improving their behavior, uplifting
themselves from their low station in American society. The burden
of race relations was placed squarely on the shoulders of Black Ameri-
cans. Positive Black behavior, abolitionist strategists held, undermined
racist ideas, and negative Black behavior confirmed them.
Uplift suasion was not conceived by the abolitionists meeting
in Philadelphia in 1794. It lurked behind the craze to exhibit Phillis
Wheatley and Francis Williams and other “extraordinary” Black peo-
ple. So the American Convention, raising the stakes, asked every free
Black person to serve as a Black exhibit. In every state, abolitionists
publicly and privately drilled this theory into the minds of African
people as they entered the ranks of freedom in the 1790s and beyond.
This strategy to undermine racist ideas was actually based on a
racist idea: “negative” Black behavior, said that idea, was partially or
plift uasion 125

totally responsible for the existence and persistence of racist ideas.
To believe that the negative ways of Black people were responsible
for racist ideas was to believe that there was some truth in notions of
Black inferiority. To believe that there was some truth in notions of
Black inferiority was to hold racist ideas.
From the beginning, uplift suasion was not only racist, it was also
impossible for Blacks to execute. Free Blacks were unable to always
display positive characteristics for the same reasons poor immigrants
and rich planters were unable to do so: free Blacks were human and
humanly flawed. Uplift suasion assumed, moreover, that racist ideas
were sensible and could be undone by appealing to sensibilities. But
the common political desire to justify racial inequities produced racist
ideas, not logic. Uplift suasion also failed to account for the widespread
belief in the extraordinary Negro, which had dominated assimilationist
and abolitionist thinking in America for a century. Upwardly mobile
Blacks were regularly cast aside as unique and as different from ordi-
nary, inferior Black people.
Still, from the perspective of White and Black abolitionists alike,
uplift suasion seemed to be working in the 1790s. It would always seem
to be working. Consumers of racist ideas sometimes changed their
viewpoints when exposed to Black people defying stereotypes (and
then sometimes changed back when exposed to someone confirming
the stereotypes). Then again, upwardly mobile Blacks seemed as likely
to produce resentment as admiration. “If you were well dressed they
would insult you for that, and if you were ragged you would surely
be insulted for being so,” one Black Rhode Island resident complained
in his memoir in the early 1800s. It was the cruel illogic of racism.
When Black people rose, racists either violently knocked them down
or ignored them as extraordinary. When Black people were down, rac-
ists called it their natural or nurtured place, and denied any role in
knocking them down in the first place.10

UPLIFT SUASION MOVED neither segregationist enslavers nor assimilation-

ist abolitionists away from their racist ideas. Not even Benjamin Rush,
126 tamped from the Beginning
the scion of abolitionism, could be moved. By the end of August 1793,
he was up to his neck in yellow fever cases and using racist ideas to
solicit assistance. Rush inserted a note in Philadelphia’s American Daily
Advertiser in September telling Black people they had immunity to
yellow fever, a conclusion he had reached based on his belief in their
animal-like physical superiority. Quite a few Black nurses suffered hor-
ribly before Rush realized his gross error. In all, 5,000 people per-
ished before the epidemic subsided in November and federal officials
returned to the city.11
Thomas Jefferson used his time away from Philadelphia during the
epidemic to spend money on scientific devices that he planned to use
in retirement. His agony over Treasury Secretary Alexander Ham-
ilton’s wheeling toward monarchy and financial speculation had set
him to packing. We are “daily pitted in the Cabinet like two cocks,”
Jefferson sobbed. In one of his last days as secretary of state, Jeffer-
son received a patent application from Eli Whitney, a Yale-educated
Massachusetts native looking for his fortune in Georgia. Whitney had
invented a high-quality cotton gin that quickly separated cotton fibers
from their seeds. Jefferson knew about the growing demand for Amer-
ican cotton abroad and the costly, labor-intensive process of manually
removing the seeds. The introduction of steam power in England and
waterpower in the northeastern United States drastically lowered the
cost of making cotton into yarn and making yarn into fabric. Forward
us a model of the gin and you will receive your patent “immediately,”
Jefferson wrote to Whitney. Jefferson had retired by the time Whit-
ney received his patent in 1794.12
Enthroning King Cotton, the cotton gin made the value of south-
ern lands skyrocket and quickly dethroned rice and tobacco. King
Cotton incessantly demanded more and more to stabilize its reign:
more enslaved Africans, more land, more violence, and more racist
ideas. Annual cotton production slammed through the ceiling of about
3,000 bales in 1790, reaching 178,000 bales in 1810 and more than
4 million bales on the eve of the Civil War. Cotton became Ameri-
ca’s leading export, exceeding in dollar value all exports, helping to
free Americans from British banks, helping to expand the factory
plift uasion 127

system in the North, and helping to power the Industrial Revolution
in the United States. Cotton—more than anyone or anything else—

economically freed American enslavers from England and tightened
the chains of African people in American slavery. Uplift suasion had
no chance of dethroning King Cotton.13

IN 1796, BEFORE the cotton gin had taken hold—feeding cotton pro-
duction and the demand for more enslaved Africans—Benjamin Rush
thought he had found the ultimate abolitionist cure. The good doctor
believed he had found a way to cure captives of their abnormal Black-
ness. The two presidential candidates—Thomas Jefferson and incum-
bent vice president John Adams—shared the Philadelphia sunlight
that summer with a free “white black man.” Henry Moss, unbeknownst
to Americans, was suffering from vitiligo, a skin disease that causes the
loss of skin color, making one’s dark skin lighten. Moss exhibited his
forty-two-year-old whitened body in Philadelphia taverns and before
members of the American Philosophical Society. Long before “Black-
faced” White entertainers enthralled Americans, “White-faced” Blacks
enthralled American believers and skeptics of the theory that Black
skin could change to White. Moss became “almost as familiar to the
readers of newspapers and other periodicals . . . as . . . John Adams,
Thomas Jefferson, or Madison,” according to one observer. Like John
“Primrose” Boby, who showcased his whitening body in the United
Kingdom around the same time, Moss was a freak to some, but to
others, such as Benjamin Rush, he was the future of racial progress.
After 1796, history loses Henry Moss until 1803, when Providence
abolitionist Moses Brown carefully examined him and saw “evidence
of the sameness of human nature.” In 1814, Moss resurfaced again in
the New England Journal of Medicine and Surgery, where he is described as
a Black man “whose skin has nearly lost its native colour and become
perfectly white.”14
President George Washington, Samuel Stanhope Smith, Benja-
min Rush, and other dignitaries viewed Moss in the summer of 1796.
“The parts that were covered and sweated advanced most rapidly in
128 tamped from the Beginning
whiteness, his face slowest,” Rush jotted down in his notes. “His skin
was exactly like a white man. No rubbing accelerated it. The black
skin did not come off, but changed.” Thomas Jefferson, apparently, did
not see Moss. Jefferson did own a few “white Negroes,” and he called
them an “anomaly of nature” in Notes on the State of Virginia. They were
all “born of parents who had no mixture of white blood,” Jefferson
wrote, careful to exonerate his peers and uphold his false stand against
interracial sex. Jefferson probably knew the term “albino” came from
the Latin albus, meaning an animal, plant, or person lacking pigment.
But their skin color—“a pallid cadaverous white”—was different, Jef-
ferson wrote, and their “curled” hair was “that of the negro.” No won-
der Jefferson never took aim at physical assimilationists. He did not
even concede the color change from Black to White.15
To Jefferson’s dismay, other American intellectuals did take whit-
ening Blacks very seriously. On February 4, 1797, Benjamin Rush,
the APS’s vice president, informed Jefferson that he was “preparing a
paper in which I have attempted to prove that the black color . . . of
the Negroes is the effect of a disease in the skin.” Rush gave the paper
at a special APS meeting on July 14, 1797. He praised the “elegant
and ingenious Essay” of fellow assimilationist Samuel Stanhope Smith,
given a decade prior. Rush, however, disagreed with Smith on how to
make Black people White again. He rejected climate theory and pro-
claimed that all Africans were suffering from leprosy. This skin disease
explained why they all had ugly Black skin, Rush told APS members.
And the whiter their skins became, the healthier they became.16
This skin disease was brought on by poor diet, he theorized, along
with “greater heat, more savage manners, and bilious fevers.” He then
listed other side effects of the skin disease: Blacks’ physical superior-
ity, their “wooly heads,” their laziness, their hypersexuality, and their
insensitivity to pain. “They bear surgical operations much better than
white people,” Rush quoted a doctor as saying. “I have amputated
the legs of many negroes, who have held the upper part of the limb
Benjamin Rush projected himself as a friend of the Philadelphia
Negro, a racial egalitarian, and an abolitionist. He attempted to uphold
plift uasion 129

his persona at the end of his address. “All the claims of superiority of
the whites over the blacks, on account of their color, are founded alike
in ignorance and inhumanity,” he stressed. “If the color of the negroes
be the effect of a disease, instead of inviting us to tyrannise over them,
it should entitle them to a double portion of our humanity.” Rush was
upbeat about Black capability, about the future, and about potential
remedies: Nature had begun to cure Black people. The famous assim-
ilationist mentioned Henry Moss and his glorious “change from black
to a natural white flesh color.” His “wool,” Rush announced with satis-
faction, “has been changed into hair.”17
Benjamin Rush’s leprosy theory and Samuel Stanhope Smith’s cli-
mate theory were as popular among northern assimilationists and abo-
litionists as Thomas Jefferson was unpopular. Jefferson had lost the
presidential election to Adams in 1796, but ran for president again in
1800. Federalist operatives and journalists tried to convince voters of
Jefferson’s atheism and anti-Black views, using his Notes as evidence,
just as they had done during the previous election. “You have degraded
the blacks from the rank which God hath given them in the scale of
being!” wrote one Federalist pamphleteer. Some of Jefferson’s defend-
ers during the campaign were jailed by the Adams administration
under the 1798 Sedition Act—namely, James Callender. Pardoned by
Jefferson when he won the presidency in 1800, Callender apparently
requested patronage as retribution for his services. President Jefferson
refused. Incensed, Callender exposed Jefferson’s secret.18
On September 1, 1802, Richmond’s Recorder readers learned about
the relationship between President Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hem-
ings. “By this wench Sally, our president has had several children,”
Callender wrote. The arrangement had begun in France, “when he
endeavored so much to belittle the African race.” (Callender, ironi-
cally, belittled the African race too. “Wench” oftentimes meant a pro-
miscuous woman, connoting the common idea that African women
pursued White men.)19
If Callender thought his series of articles would destroy Jefferson’s
political fortunes, then he was wrong. Callender’s reports did not sur-
prise many White male voters, either in Virginia or around the nation.
130 tamped from the Beginning
If anything, Callender upset them, because some of them were having
their own secretive affairs with Black women—or raping them—and
they did not want such things publicly aired. Nationally, White male
voters bolstered Jefferson’s party in Congress in the 1802 midterm
elections, and they overwhelmingly supported his presidential reelec-
tion in 1804.
When Jefferson’s daughter Patsy showed him Callender’s article,
Jefferson laughed. No words came from his lips to give the matter
any credence. John Adams privately called it a “blot on his charac-
ter” and the “natural and almost unavoidable consequence of that foul
contagion in the human character, Negro slavery.” Jefferson may have
privately justified his relations with Sally Hemings by reminding him-
self that everyone did it, or tried to do it. From teens ending their (and
their victims’) virginity, to married men sneaking around, to single
and widowed men having their longtime liaisons—master/slave rape
or intercourse seemed “natural,” and enslaving one’s children seemed
normal in slaveholding America.
Even Jefferson’s old law teacher, his “earliest and best friend,”
engaged in an interracial liaison. Widower George Wythe had lived
for some time in Williamsburg with the young, biracial Michael Brown
and a Black “housekeeper,” Lydia Broadnax. Wythe willed his house
to Broadnax, and he asked Jefferson to oversee Brown’s education.
Perhaps angry about this arrangement, Wythe’s White grandnephew,
George Sweeney, probably poisoned Wythe, Broadnax, and Brown
one day in 1806. Only Broadnax survived. In his second presidential
term, Jefferson publicly avoided the Wythe scandal, trying to create as
much “imaginative distance,” to use his biographer’s term, as possible.20
Master/slave sex fundamentally acknowledged the humanity of
Black and biracial women, but it simultaneously reduced that human-
ity to their sexuality. In the Christian world, sexuality was believed
to be the animal trait of humans. Fast becoming the iconic image of
a Black woman at this time was the 1800 Portrait d’une negresse (Portrait
of a Negress) by French painter Marie-Guillemine Benoist. An African
woman sits staring at the viewer with her head wrapped and breast
exposed. The white cloth wrapping her head and lower body contrasts
plift uasion 131

vividly with the darkness of her skin. The portrait is thought to be the
first painting of a Black woman by a European woman.21
It is not surprising that Jefferson’s career survived Callender’s
scandalous revelation. During his presidency, many Americans came
to understand slavery (and its sexual politics) as an immutable fact of
their lives and their economy. The nation that Jefferson had called
“the world’s best hope” and “the strongest government on earth” in
his First Inaugural Address in 1801 was not hopefully anticipating the
end of slavery. The antislavery refrains first heard from the mouths of
the Germantown Petitioners reached a crescendo during the Ameri-
can Revolution, but then started to trail off. And the remaining aboli-
tionists, such as Benjamin Rush and company, who were urging uplift
suasion hardly had as large an audience as John Woolman and Sam-
uel Hopkins had enjoyed a generation prior. King Cotton was on the
march. And the slaveholding producers of racist ideas had convinced
legions of Americans to see slavery as a necessary evil to pay off their
debts and build their nation. Besides, it seemed better than the sup-
posed horrific barbarism bound to arise, they argued, from Black
More than anything else, the Haitian Revolution and the slave
rebellions it inspired across the Americas made White Americans fear-
ful of race war and, even more worrying, a potential Black victory.
Southern congressmen and newspaper editors did what they could to
silence dissent and stoke White fears, claiming that public discussion
of slavery and the presence of free Blacks were inciting slaves to rebel.
And there were more free Blacks than ever before, because of wartime
runaways and the outbreak of manumissions following the Revolution.
The free Black population in Virginia, for instance, leaped from 1,800
in 1782 to 12,766 in 1790 and then to 30,570 in 1810.23
Then there was the sudden expansion of the cotton kingdom.
Napoleon’s defeat at the hands of Haitian revolutionaries—free Black
Haiti declared independence in 1804—required him to reimagine
the French Empire. Holding and defending faraway colonies had
become too costly and too bothersome. The vast Louisiana Territory
did not fit in his new leaner, stronger empire. “I renounce Louisiana,”
132 tamped from the Beginning
Napoleon said on April 11, 1803. By April 30, the Jefferson administra-
tion had purchased the territory from France for $15 million, or three
cents per acre. Jefferson learned of the purchase on the eve of Inde-
pendence Day. “It is something larger than the whole U.S.,” he wrote
with happiness.
Over the next few decades, slaveholders marched their captives
onto the new western lands, terrorizing them into planting new cotton
and sugar fields, sending the crops to northern and British factories,
and powering the Industrial Revolution. Southern planters and north-
ern investors grew rich. With so much money to make, antislavery
and antiracist ideas were whipped to the side like antislavery, antiracist

THE NEW LIFE and lands of slavery, and the new crops and cash from
slavery, sucked the life out of the antislavery movement during Jeffer-
son’s presidency in the early 1800s. Assimilationist ideas, especially
monogenesis, also faded. Theologians like Princeton’s president, Sam-
uel Stanhope Smith, the most eminent scholar on race in the United
States in that era, seeing the loss of their cultural power, grew to hate
Jefferson’s disregard for religious authority. Jefferson questioned the
orthodox Christian belief that all humans descended from Adam and
Eve, and articulators of separately created human species nagged
Smith like an incessantly barking dog.25
English physician Charles White, the well-known author of a trea-
tise on midwifery, entered the debate over species in 1799. Unlike
Scotland’s Lord Kames, White circled around religion and employed
a new method of proving the existence of separate race species—
comparative anatomy. He did not want the conclusions in his Account
on the Regular Gradation in Man to “be construed so as to give the small-
est countenance to the pernicious practice of enslaving mankind.” His
only objective was “to investigate the truth.” White disputed Buffon’s
legendary contention that since interracial unions were fertile, the
races had to be of the same species. Actually, orangutans had been
“known to carry off negro-boys, girls, and even women,” he said,
plift uasion 133

sometimes enslaving them for “brutal passion.” On the natural scale,
Europeans were the highest and Africans the lowest, approaching
“nearer to the brute creation than any other of the human species.”
Blacks were superior in areas where apes were superior to humans—
seeing, hearing, smelling, memorizing things, and chewing food. “The
PENIS of an African is larger than that of an European,” White told his
readers. Most anatomical museums in Europe preserved Black penises,
and, he noted, “I have one in mine.”26
Science had been too religious in the days of Voltaire for discus-
sions of separate species to catch on. Too much freedom and Revolu-
tionary rhetoric clouded the words of Edward Long and Lord Kames.
By the period of Charles White’s publication, the debate was on. In
1808, New York physician John Augustine Smith, a disciple of Charles
White, rebuked Samuel Stanhope Smith as a minister dabbling in sci-
ence. “I hold it my duty to lay before you all the facts which are rele-
vant,” John Augustine Smith announced in his circulated lecture. The
principal fact was that the “anatomical structure” of the European was
“superior” to that of the other races. As different species, Blacks and
Whites had been “placed at the opposite extremes of the scale.” The
polygenesis lecture launched Smith’s academic career: he became edi-
tor of the Medical and Physiological Journal, tenth president of the Col-
lege of William & Mary, and president of the New York College of
Physicians and Surgeons.27
The advance of slavery, possibly more than the persuasive argu-
ments of Lord Kames, Charles White, and John Augustine Smith,
caused intellectuals long committed to monogenesis to start changing
their views. Watching the Christian world unravel, Samuel Stanhope
Smith made one last intellectual stand for theology, for assimilation-
ists, and for monogenesis. He released an “enlarged and improved”
second edition of Essay on the Causes of Variety of Complexion and Figure in
the Human Species in 1810, pledging to appeal “to the evidence of facts.”
Nothing in the past twenty years had changed his position: racial dif-
ference resulted from climate and the state of a society. If anything,
Smith asserted it more forcefully. And he introduced “another fact”
in the climate section: Henry Moss’s skin had changed, and his new
134 tamped from the Beginning
“fine, straight hair” had replaced “the wooly substance.” In a hard-

hitting appendix, Smith responded to “certain strictures made on the
first edition of this essay,” the polygenesis of Charles White, Thomas
Jefferson, and John Augustine Smith. “Let infidels appear in their true
form,” Smith roared in closing. “If they seek the combat, we only pray,
like Ajax, to see the enemy in open day.”28
Thomas Jefferson did not publicly respond to Samuel Stanhope
Smith in 1810. He refused to come out into open day altogether. He
had retired from public life.

Big Bottoms
LESS THAN THIRTY years earlier, Thomas Jefferson had been anxious to
leave Monticello and to be free from the sorrow of his wife’s pass-
ing. After France, three years as US secretary of state, four years as
vice president, and eight years as president, he wanted to return to
his home in Virginia. “Never did a prisoner, released from his chains,
feel such as I shall on shaking off the shackles of power,” he informed
a French businessman on March 4, 1809, days before his release from
the presidency.
After rooming for years in earsplitting Washington, Jefferson
longed for quiet seclusion to read, write, and think in private. “But the
enormities of the times in which I have lived,” he said, “have forced
me to take part in resisting them.” No foreign enormity was greater
than the wars raging in the early 1800s between France and England.
Jefferson kept the United States neutral, ignoring war hawks, but he
could not ignore the violations on the high seas of American neutral-
ity. He proposed (and Congress adopted) a general embargo of US
trade with France and England in 1807. Congress repealed the con-
troversial embargo during the final days of Jefferson’s presidency on
March 1, 1809. Jefferson’s neutral doctrine delayed the inevitable.
Three years after he had left the presidency, the United States faced
off with England in the War of 1812.1
Presiding over the American Philosophical Society from 1797 to
1815, Jefferson did remain neutral in the war between monogenesis
and polygenesis. He rarely even struck back at the Federalist offensive

136 tamped from the Beginning
against his Notes on the State of Virginia in the presidential campaigns.
In 1804, printer William Duane offered Jefferson the opportunity to
respond in a new edition. Jefferson balked. He did not have time. But he
did plan to revise and enlarge Notes when he left Washington in 1809.2
Weeks before leaving office, Jefferson thanked abolitionist and sci-
entist Henri Gregoire for sending him a copy of An Enquiry Concern-
ing the Intellectual and Moral Faculties, and Literature of Negroes on February
25. Gregoire offered travel “testimony” of glorious Black nations to
refute what “Jefferson tells us, that no nation of them was ever civi-
lized,” he wrote. “We do not pretend to place the negroes on a level”
with Whites, Gregoire explained in assimilationist form, but only to
challenge those who say “that the negroes are incapable of becoming
partners in the store-house of human knowledge.”3
After years of apologizing for American slavery, Jefferson proba-
bly finally felt good about responding to Henri Gregoire. He was in
a better position now to write to the famed abolitionist. In his Annual
Message to Congress three years earlier, Jefferson had condemned the
“violations of human rights” enabled by the slave trade and urged Con-
gress to abolish it. Congress followed his lead in 1807, after a conten-
tious debate over how illegal slave traders would be punished. Traders,
they decided, would be fined under the Slave Trade Act of 1807. But
Congress did nothing to ensure the act’s enforcement.
It was an empty and mostly symbolic law. The act failed to close
the door on the ongoing international slave trade while flinging open
the door to a domestic one. Violations of human rights continued
when children were snatched from parents, and slave ships now trav-
eled down American waters in a kind of “middle passage” from Vir-
ginia to New Orleans, which took as many days as the transatlantic
“middle passage” had. Jefferson and like-minded planters of the Upper
South started deliberately “breeding” captives to supply the Deep
South’s demand. “I consider a woman who brings a child every two
years as more profitable than the best man on the farm,” Jefferson once
explained to a friend. A year after the Slave Trade Act, a South Car-
olina court ruled that enslaved women had no legal claims on their
children. They stood “on the same footings as other animals.”4
Big Bottoms 137

Ending the international slave trade was in reality a boon for the
largest American slave-owners, as it increased the demand and value
of their captives. And so the largest slave-owners and the gradual-

emancipation advocates joined hands in cheering on the legal termina-
tion of the international slave trade on January 1, 1808. Massachusetts
clergyman Jedidiah Morse deemed it a victory. He spoke for most
northern assimilationist evangelicals when he proclaimed that since
Christianity was finally lighting up the “heathenish and Mahometan
darkness” of Africa, “its natives have no need to be carried to foreign
lands.” Morse believed that slavery would be gradually abolished, too.5
Thomas Jefferson must have relied on this widespread support for
the Slave Trade Act when he finally replied to Henri Gregoire in stock
fashion in 1809. “No person living wishes more sincerely than I do,” he
said, to see racial equality proven. “On this subject [Black people] are
gaining daily in the opinions of nations,” Jefferson wrote, “and hopeful
advances are making towards their re-establishment of an equal foot-
ing with the other colors of the human family.”6
In fact, Black people were losing ground daily in the opinions of
European nations. Not long after Gregoire and Jefferson exchanged
letters, London was blitzed with a broadsheet picturing a seminude
African woman standing sideways to the viewer, her oversized but-
tocks exposed on one side, the unseen side draped in animal skin. A
headband wraps her forehead, and she holds a body-sized stick. Whit-
ening Blacks, Black exhibits, and “converted Hottentots,” sharing their
supposed journeys from savagery to civilization, were becoming less
remarkable with each passing year. But Londoners were captivated by
Sarah Baartman, or rather, her enormous buttocks and genitalia.
Baartman’s Khoi people of southern Africa had been classified as
the lowest Africans, the closest to animals, for more than a century.
Baartman’s buttocks and genitals were irregularly large among her fel-
low Khoi women, not to mention African women across the continent,
or across the Atlantic on Jefferson’s plantation. And yet Baartman’s
enormous buttocks and genitals were presented as regular and authen-
tically African. She was billed on stage in the fashionable West End
of London as the “Hottentot Venus,” which tightened the bolt on the
138 tamped from the Beginning
racist stereotype linking Black women to big buttocks. Polygenesist
Charles White had already tightened the bolt linking Black men with
big genitalia.
Retiring colonial official Alexander Dunlop and Baartman’s South
African master Hendrik Cesars brought Baartman to London in July
1810. Upon Dunlop’s death in 1814, exhibiter Henry Taylor brought
the thirty-six or thirty-seven-year-old Baartman to Paris for another
round of shows. Papers rejoiced over her arrival. She appeared in the
grand Palais-Royal, the centerfold of Parisian debauchery, where pros-
titutes mixed with printers, restaurants with gambling houses, coffee
gossipers with drunk dancers, beggars with elites. On November 19,
1814, Parisians strolled into the Vaudeville Theater across from the
Palais-Royal to view the opening of La Venus Hottentote, ou Haine aux Fran-
cais (or the Hatred of French Women). In the opera’s plot, a young Frenchman
does not find his suitor sufficiently exotic. When she appears disguised
as the “Hottentot Venus,” he falls in love. Secure in his attraction, she
drops the disguise. The Frenchman drops the ridiculous attraction to
the Hottentot Venus, comes to his senses, and the couple marries. The
opera revealed Europeans’ ideas about Black women. After all, when
Frenchmen are seduced by the Hottentot Venus, they are acting like
animals. When Frenchmen are attracted to Frenchwomen, they are
acting rationally. While hypersexual Black women are worthy of sex-
ual attraction, asexual Frenchwomen are worthy of love and marriage.
In January 1815, animal showman S. Reaux obtained Baartman
from Henry Taylor. Reaux paraded her, sometimes with a collar
around her neck, at cafés, at restaurants, and in soirées for Parisian
elites—wherever there was money. One day in March 1815, Reaux
shepherded Baartman to the Museum of Natural History in Paris,
which housed the world’s greatest collection of natural objects. They
had a meeting with Europe’s most distinguished intellectual, the com-
parative anatomist Georges Cuvier.
That rare segregationist who rejected polygenesis, Cuvier
believed that all humans descended from Europe’s Garden of Eden. A
catastrophic event 5,000 years earlier had sent the survivors fleeing to
Asia and Africa; three races had emerged and had started passing on
Big Bottoms 139

unchangeable hereditary traits. “The white race” was the “most beauti-
ful of all” and was “superior,” according to Cuvier. The African’s phys-
ical features “approximate[d] it to the monkey tribe.”
In his lab, Cuvier asked Baartman to take off her long skirt and
shawl, which she had worn to ward off the March wind. Baartman
refused. Startled, Cuvier did all he could to document her with her
clothes on over the next three days, measuring and drawing her body.
Sometime in late December 1815, Baartman died, perhaps of pneu-
monia. No Black woman was the subject of more obituaries in Parisian
newspapers in the nineteenth century than Sarah Baartman. Cuvier
secured her corpse and brought her to his laboratory. He removed
her clothes, cracked open her chest wall, removed and studied all of
her major organs. Cuvier spread her legs, studied her buttocks, and
cut out her genitals, setting them aside for preservation. After Cuvier
and his team of scientists finished their scientific rape, they boiled off
the rest of Baartman’s flesh. They reassembled the bones into a skele-
ton. Cuvier then added her remains to his world-famous collection. In
his report, he claimed to have “never seen a human head more resem-
bling a monkey’s than hers.” The Khoi people of South Africa, he con-
cluded, were more closely related to the ape than to the human.7
Parisians displayed Baartman’s skeleton, genitals, and brain until
1974. When President Nelson Mandela took office in 1994, he renewed
South Africans’ calls for Baartman’s return home. France returned her
remains to her homeland in 2002. After a life and afterlife of unceasing
exhibitions, Baartman finally rested in peace.8
Baartman’s fate was particularly horrific in the early 1810s, and
Cuvier’s conclusions about Black bodies were consumed with little
hesitation by those seeking evidence of Black inferiority to justify
their commerce on both sides of the Atlantic, a commerce taking root
in the wombs of Black women.

NO MATTER WHAT Thomas Jefferson said to Henri Gregoire in 1809,

Black people were not gaining daily in the opinions of those Choctaws
and Chickasaws who started acquiring them (or were re-enslaving
140 tamped from the Beginning
runaways). While these indigenous southern slaveholders rejected
ideas of White superiority and Native American inferiority, they
embraced associations of Blackness with slavery. Enslaved Africans
in Jefferson’s Louisiana Territory were not gaining daily in the opin-
ions of their French and American masters, either. And these captives
refused to wait until their French and American masters gained an
emancipatory opinion of them, knowing they could be waiting for-
ever for their freedom. On January 8, 1811, about fifteen captives on
a sugar plantation in an area known as the German Coast wounded a
planter, Major Manuel Andry, and killed his son. Bearing military uni-
forms and guns, cane knives, and axes while beating drums and waving
flags, they started marching from plantation to plantation, swelling
their numbers and the dead bodies of enslavers. In time, between two
hundred and five hundred biracial and African people had joined the
thirty-five-mile freedom march to invade New Orleans. Led by Asante
warriors Quamana and Kook, along with biracial men Harry Kenner
and Charles Deslondes—and inspired by the Haitian Revolution—
these revolutionaries waged the largest slave revolt in the history of
the United States.9
On January 10, 1811, the poorly armed band of freed people was
defeated by a well-armed band of four hundred militiamen and sixty
US army troops. In the end, almost one hundred former captives
were killed or executed. Louisiana provided reparations for the plant-
ers— $300 (about $4,200 in 2014) for each captive killed. Authorities
whacked off their heads and strung them up for all to see at intervals
from New Orleans to Andry’s plantation.”10
Hoping for assurances of federal protection in case of future rebel-
lions, Louisiana sugar planters voted to join the union in 1812. With the
addition of Louisiana, another slave state, it became clear that slavery
was expanding, not contracting, as Jefferson left office. The number of
enslaved Africans swelled 70 percent in twenty years, increasing from
697,897 in the first federal census of 1790 to 1,191,354 in 1810, before
tripling over the next fifty years. The escalation of slavery and the
need to defend it against anti-American abolitionists in Europe gener-
ated one of the first waves of proslavery thought after the Revolution.
Big Bottoms 141

Even northerners, or native northerners living in the South, defended

it. In 1810, future Pennsylvania congressman Charles Jared Ingersoll
released Inchiquin, the Jesuit’s Letters, refuting the aspersions cast upon
slavery “by former residents and tourists.” A few years later, New York
antislavery novelist James Kirke Paulding tried to defend his nation
and the slow pace of change. Freeing happy Africans could endanger
the community, undermine property rights, and render them “more
wretched” than they already were, Paulding wrote.11
Philadelphia Federalist Robert Walsh published An Appeal from the
Judgments of Great Britain Respecting the United States of America in 1819.
“Your work will furnish the first volume of every future American his-
tory,” Thomas Jefferson accurately predicted. Though Walsh blamed
the British for slavery, he said the institution endeared masters with
“sensibility, justice and steadfastness.” For the African, whose “colour
is a perpetual momento of their servile origin,” their enslavement is
“positively good.” The slave was “exempt from those racking anxieties”
experienced by the English.12
If Jefferson truly desired to see a refutation of his racist ideas in
Notes, as he told Gregoire, then he had made no moves in that direc-
tion during his presidency, neither politically nor in print. His most
pressing personal concern in 1809 was moving back home, to the
comfort of Monticello and Sally Hemings, and away from the ongoing
political parade in Washington.
Jefferson left Washington a week after his close friend and men-
tee James Madison was installed as the fourth president of the United
States on March 4, 1809. Jefferson’s presidential reign did not end with
his departure from Washington. Until 1841, a series of self-described
disciples of Jefferson served as US presidents, the lone exception being
John Quincy Adams in the late 1820s.13
In 1809, Jefferson estimated his net worth to be $225,000 (roughly
$3.3 million in 2014) based on 10,000 acres of land, a manufacturing
mill, 200 slaves, and a mountain of debt. Whether he was proslavery
or antislavery, Jefferson needed slavery in 1809 to maintain his finan-
cial solvency and life of luxury. In the initial years of his retirement,
Jefferson finally finished his 11,000-square-foot, 33-room mansion
142 tamped from the Beginning
displaying all the things he had collected: the animal specimens and
Native American objects, the medals and maps, the portraits and
sculptures of Jesus, Benjamin Franklin, John Locke, Sir Isaac New-
ton, Christopher Columbus, and Voltaire, and the painting of him-
self, drawn by Boston painter Mather Brown, a descendant of Cotton
Loving retirement, Jefferson placed books on top of newspapers.
He did not have to leave Monticello, and he rarely did. He had a plan-
tation to run, which relied on slave labor to pay off his debts, or rather,
pay for the luxuries he loved. He put science, not politics, at the cen-
ter of his affairs, emerging as America’s celebrity scholar in the 1810s.
The requests for advice and data and the reviewing of manuscripts
seemed endless. “From sunrise to one or two o’clock, and often from
dinner to dark, I am drudging at the writing table,” Jefferson com-
plained to John Adams. He was not updating Notes, though. By 1813,
he had lost all drive to reproduce his ideas.15
Jefferson had also lost all drive to support the cause of antislav-
ery. In 1814, Edward Coles, the personal secretary of President James
Madison, asked Jefferson to arouse public sentiment against slavery.
Jefferson balked, using the excuse of old age. The seventy-one-year-
old advised Coles to reconcile himself with enslavement and only
promote emancipation in a way that did not offend anyone.16 Ironi-
cally, the inoffensive solution that Jefferson offered in Notes, and that
he tried to execute once as president, was about be adopted by a new

ONE OF THOMAS JEFFERSON’S most enduring legacies was a race relations
effort that spanned the course of the nineteenth century. It all began
in the spring of 1800 in Jefferson’s home state. Two captives, Gabriel
and Nancy Prosser, were organizing a slave rebellion. Standing well
over six feet tall, with dark skin, penetrating eyes, and bulging scars,
the twenty-four-year-old Gabriel Prosser caught people’s attention
wherever he went. He won converts by reminding them of the Hai-
tian armies that had turned back the armies of Spain, England, and
France. The Prossers planned to have hundreds of captives march on
Richmond, where they would seize 4,000 unguarded muskets, arrest
Governor James Monroe, hold the city until reinforcements arrived
from surrounding counties, and negotiate the end of slavery and equal
rights. The lives of friendly Methodists, Quakers, and French people
were to be spared, but racist Blacks would be killed. Allies were to be
recruited among Virginia’s poor whites and Native Americans.
The revolt failed to materialize on the planned date of Saturday,
August 30, 1800. Two cynical slaves begging for their master’s favor
betrayed what would have been the largest slave revolt in the history
of North America, with as many as 50,000 rebels joining in from as
far as Norfolk, Virginia. Given notice that afternoon, Governor James
Monroe dispatched Richmond’s defenses and informed every mili-
tia commander in Virginia. Wind and rain stormed through the Vir-
ginia Tidewater. A capsized bridge halted the march of a thousand
armed rebels into the city. The liberating army disbanded, dripping

144 tamped from the Beginning
in disgust. The enslaving army stayed intact, over the next few weeks
invading communities and arresting rebel leaders. Gabriel Prosser fled
to Norfolk, where he was betrayed and captured on September 25.
Dragged back to Richmond, he was hanged along with his comrades,
but they appeared defiant until the end. “The accused have exhibited a
spirit, which, if it becomes general, must deluge the Southern country
in blood,” said an eyewitness.1
A rebellious slave was extraordinary—real, but not really rep-
resentative. During the final months of 1800, enslavers blasted this
racist mantra of contented slaves and then hypocritically demanded
more weapons, more organization, and more sophisticated laws to
restrain them. On December 31, 1800, the Virginia House of Del-
egates secretly instructed Governor James Monroe to correspond
with the incoming President Jefferson on finding lands outside of Vir-
ginia where “persons  .  .  . dangerous to the peace of society may be
removed.” Jefferson requested clarity on their desires on November
24, 1801. He suggested colonization in the Caribbean or Africa to
the Virginia delegates, expressing the improbability of securing lands
within the continental United States.2
Virginia lawmakers again gathered in secret in 1802 to respond to
their native son. Slavery had to continue, and its natural by-product—
resistance—had to stop. So Virginia lawmen took Jefferson up on his
proposal, asking him to find a foreign home for the state’s free Blacks.
Jefferson went to work, inquiring through intermediaries about West
Africa’s Sierra Leone, England’s colony for freed people since 1792.
England spurned Jefferson, as did other European nations. Breaking
the bad news to Monroe on December 27, 1804, Jefferson assured him
he would “keep it under my constant attention.”3
Virginia lawmakers swore themselves to secrecy, agreeing to never
reveal their maneuvers for colonization; they did not even inform the
next generation of lawmakers. But in 1816, Charles Fenton Mercer, a
member of the House of Delegates since 1810, learned of Jefferson’s
plan. He uncovered the correspondence between Monroe and Jef-
ferson, and he was inspired by the Jeffersonian rationale for sending
Blacks abroad. Mercer was an antislavery, anti-abolitionist slaveholder
Colonization 145

like Jefferson. Although “slavery is wrong,” he later wrote, emancipa-

tion “would do more harm than good.”4
Mercer wanted to remake his region’s agrarian, slave-labor econ-
omy into a free-labor, industrial economy. He dreaded the working-

class revolts that were picking up steam in Western Europe, but had
faith in the ability of a public education system to placate lower- and
middle-income Whites. Yet he recognized that the rampant racial dis-
crimination in America would fashion free Blacks into a perpetually
rebellious working class. He wanted to expel Blacks from the United
States before it was too late.
Colonization seemed like a godsend to Mercer. It also appealed to
Robert Finley, who learned about the cause from his brother-in-law,
Mercer’s old friend Elias B. Caldwell, the longtime clerk of the US
Supreme Court. An antislavery clergyman, Finley had already taken
an interest in the plight of low-income free Blacks, and to him, colo-
nization seemed to be the perfect solution to their problems. Mercer,
Finley, and the colonizationists they inspired ended up being the ideo-
logical children of an odd couple who had disliked each other: Thomas
Jefferson and Samuel Stanhope Smith. The latter endorsed the cause
before his 1819 death. While Smith believed that Black people were
capable of Whiteness, Jefferson insisted that they were incapable of
achieving Whiteness in the United States. Colonization offered an
alternative that both men could embrace.5
In 1816, Finley sat down and wrote the colonization movement’s
manifesto, Thoughts on the Colonization of Free Blacks. “What shall we do
with the free people of color?” he began the pamphlet. Free Blacks
must be trained “for self-government” and returned to their land of ori-
gin, he wrote. For the enslaved, “the evil of slavery will be diminished,
and in a way so gradual as to prepare the whites for the happy and
progressive change.”6
Carrying this literary cannonball of racist ideas, Finley invaded
Washington, DC, in late November 1816. He lobbied journalists, poli-
ticians, and President James Madison, whose views on Blacks mirrored
Jefferson’s. Finley and his powerful associates called an organizational
meeting for colonizationists on December 21, 1816. Presiding was
146 tamped from the Beginning
Kentucky representative Henry Clay, whose early life had resembled
Thomas Jefferson’s. Born to Virginia planters, Clay had become a law-
yer, a Kentucky planter, and then a politician. He had expressed an
early abolitionism that had faded with time. Clay had just finished his
second stint as Speaker of the House when he presided over the col-
onization meeting that birthed the American Colonization Society.
Slaveholder and Supreme Court Justice Bushrod Washington—the
nephew of George Washington—was elected president of the soci-
ety, and the vice presidents included Finley, Clay, General Andrew
Jackson, and Mercer’s Princeton schoolmate Richard Rush, the son of
Benjamin Rush, who had pledged his support for colonization before
his death in 1813.
At the inaugural meeting, Finley’s gradual abolitionism took a back
seat to the demands of the slaveholders. The society would ignore
the “delicate question” of abolition and only promote the deportation
of free Blacks, Henry Clay said. “Can there be a nobler cause than
that which, whilst it proposed to rid our country of a useless and per-
nicious, if not dangerous portion of its population, contemplates the
spreading of the arts of civilized life, and the possible redemption from
ignorance and barbarism of a benighted quarter of the globe?” News-
papers around the nation reprinted his words.
In Philadelphia, at least 3,000 Black men packed into Mother
Bethel A.M.E. Church on January 15, 1817, to discuss the ACS’s
formation. Longtime colonization supporter James Forten, A.M.E.
church founder Richard Allen, and two other Black ministers pledged
their support for colonization and its missionary potential. Speeches
concluded, Forten stepped to the pulpit to gauge the crowd. Those
in favor? Forten asked. No one spoke. No one raised a hand. Noth-
ing. All opposed? Forten nervously asked. Everything. A booming “no”
rang out, shaking the walls of the church.
These Black men had walked into the church fuming. Their wives,
girlfriends, sisters, and mothers were probably angry, too (but were
disallowed from proclaiming it at the male-only meeting). The meet-
ing attendees audaciously denounced the “unmerited stigma” that
Henry Clay had “cast upon the reputation of the free people of color.”
Colonization 147

They did not want to go to the “savage wilds of Africa,” the attendees
resolved, demonstrating that they had already consumed those racist
myths. But at the same time, they were expressing their commitment
to enslaved people and America and demanding recognition for their
role in the nation’s growth. It was “the land of our nativity,” a land that
had been “manured” by their “blood and sweat.” “We will never sepa-
rate ourselves voluntarily from the slave population of this country,”
they resolved.7
American-born descendants of Africa judged the continent based
on the standards they had learned from the very people who were
calling them inferior and trying to kick them out of the United States.
Africans in America had received their knowledge of Africa and their
racist ideas from White Americans. And White Americans’ racist ideas
had been procured from a host of European writers—everyone from
Sarah Baartman’s dissector, Georges Cuvier of France, to philosopher
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel of Germany.
Around the time of the American Colonization Society’s found-
ing, European nations were increasingly turning their capital and
guns from the slave trade to the cause of colonizing Africa (as well as
Asia). English, French, German, and Portuguese armies fought African
armies throughout the nineteenth century, trying to establish colonies
in order to exploit Africa’s resources and bodies more systematically
and efficiently. This new racist drive required racist ideas to make sense
of it, and Hegel’s pontifications about backward Africans arrived right
on time. Racist ideas always seemed to arrive right on time to dress up
the ugly economic and political exploitation of African people.
Ironically, back in 1807, Hegel had expressed a very antiracist idea
in his classic book Phenomenology of Spirit, condemning “the overhasty
judgement formed at first sight about the inner nature and character”
of a person. He revolutionized European philosophy and history in
many important matters in the nineteenth century. Legions of philos-
ophy chairs across Europe became Hegelians, and the philosophers
he influenced—including men like Søren Kierkegaard, Karl Marx,
and Friedrich Engels—constitute a who’s who of European intellec-
tuals. But before his death in 1831, Hegel failed to free himself and
148 tamped from the Beginning
Europe from the Enlightenment era’s racist ideas. “It is  .  .  . the con-
crete universal, self-determining thought, which constitutes the prin-
ciple and character of Europeans,” Hegel once wrote. “God becomes
man, revealing himself.” In contrast, African people, he said, were “a
nation of children” in the “first stage” of human development: “The
negro is an example of animal man in all his savagery and lawlessness.”
They could be educated, but they would never advance on their own.
Hegel’s foundational racist idea justified Europe’s ongoing coloniza-
tion of Africa. European colonizers would supposedly bring progress
to Africa’s residents, just as European enslavers had brought progress
to Africans in the Americas.8

IN THEIR RESOLUTION against the American Colonization Society, Phil-

adelphia Blacks noted the “unmerited stigma” that had been “cast upon
the reputation of the free people of color.” The death of Robert Finley
later in the year strained the ACS, and it struggled to attract federal
funding and the support of slaveholders, especially in the Deep South.
The slaveholders would never accept colonization unless they were
convinced that it would allow slavery to endure. Free Blacks would
never sign on unless emancipation was promised. Neither group was
Still, the society was persistent. In terms of federal funding, Charles
Fenton Mercer steered the next offensive after joining the House of
Representatives. On January 13, 1819, Mercer introduced the Slave
Trade Act, which allocated $100,000 to send “negroes” back to Africa.
Signing the bill into law was the old Virginia governor sympathetic to
colonization: James Monroe, who had been elected to the US presi-
dency weeks before the formation of the ACS. Almost immediately,
debates sprang up as to whether the bill authorized Monroe to acquire
land in Africa. By 1821, Monroe had dispatched US naval officer Rob-
ert Stockton, as an agent of the society, to West Africa. With a drawn
pistol in one hand and a pen in the other, Stockton embezzled—some
say for $300—a strip of Atlantic coastal land south of Sierra Leone
from a local ruler, who probably did not hold title to his people’s land.
Colonization 149

The United States thus joined the growing band of nations seeking
to colonize Africa. By 1824, American settlers had built fortifications
there. They renamed the settlement “Liberia,” and its capital “Monro-
via,” after the US president. Between 1820 and 1830, only 154 Black
northerners out of more than 100,000 sailed to Liberia.10

THE NINETEENTH CENTURY had begun with a slave rebellion plot that had
caused Virginia enslavers and President Jefferson to think seriously of
sending free and enslaved Blacks back to Africa. The slave rebellions
kept coming, and nothing accelerated enslavers’ support for the coloni-
zation movement more than actual or potential slave rebellions.
In 1818, a fifty-one-year-old free carpenter named Denmark Vesey
started recruiting the thousands of slaves in and around Charleston
that would form his army—one estimate says 9,000. Vesey was well
known locally as one of the founders of Emmanuel A.M.E. Church, the
first African Methodist Episcopal church in the South. Before receiv-
ing his freedom in 1800, Vesey had traveled the Atlantic with his sea-
faring owner, acquiring a tremendous pride in the agency, culture, and
humanity of African people. He had also been inspired by the Ameri-
can, French, and Haitian revolutions. Vesey likely spent time teaching,
motivating, and encouraging fellow enslaved Blacks and challenging
the racist ideas they had consumed, perhaps regularly reciting the bib-
lical story of the Israelites’ deliverance from Egyptian bondage. He set
the revolt for July 14, 1822, the anniversary of the French Revolution.
Trusted house servants were to assassinate top South Carolina officials
as they slept. Six infantry and cavalry companies were to invade the
city and kill every White and Black antagonist they encountered on
sight. Arsonists were to burn the city to the ground. Spared captains
of ships were to bring the rebels to Haiti or Africa—not as colonizers,
but as immigrants.
House slave Peter Prioleau betrayed the plot in late May; he
received a reward of freedom and later became a slaveholder him-
self. Prioleau had no desire to abolish slavery, and he probably did
not question the racist ideas behind it. In four long years of recruiting
150 tamped from the Beginning
thousands of rebels, no mistakes had been made by Vesey’s lieuten-
ants; no one betrayed the plot—an amazing organizational feat—until
Prioleau opened his mouth. By late June, South Carolina authorities
had destroyed Vesey’s army, banished thirty-four of Vesey’s soldiers,
and hanged thirty-five men, including Denmark Vesey himself, who
was defiant to the very end.11
The vast Vesey conspiracy provoked fear in Charleston and beyond.
Slaveholders began to contemplate the end of slavery, and ejecting
the Black people seemed like an attractive option. In the words of one
writer, “the whole United States [should] join in a Colonization Society.”
Another Charleston essayist who endorsed colonization pledged that he
was ready to help “free the country of so unwelcome a burden.” Instead,
new laws tightening the noose on enslaved Blacks soothed the raw fear.
Officials stipulated that enslaved Blacks should only wear “negro cloth,”
a cheap, coarse cotton sometimes mixed with wool. “Every distinction
should be created between the whites and the negroes,” a jurist said,
“ . . . to make the latter feel the superiority of the former.”12
Until 1822—until Denmark Vesey—northerners had produced
most of the racist books and tracts defending slavery. Writers like
Charles Jared Ingersoll, James Kirke Paulding, and Robert Walsh—
all from the North—defended slavery from British onslaughts in the
1810s. On October 29, 1822, Charleston Times editor Edwin Clifford
Holland released the first proslavery treatise by a native southerner.
Enslaved Africans, he said, could never “affect any revolution” because
of “their general inferiority in the gifts of nature.” He was trying to
calm his worried fellows. But they could disrupt society, he said, and
Whites should always be on guard. “Let it never be forgotten, that
our NEGROES  .  .  . are the anarchists and the domestic enemy; the
common enemy of civilized society, and the barbarians who would, IF
did not include the “industrious, sober, hardworking,” and free bira-
cial people in this denunciation. In the event of a rebellion, Holland
believed they would form “a barrier between our own color and that of
the black,” because they were “more likely to enlist themselves under
the banners of the whites.”13
Colonization 151

THOMAS JEFFERSON PROBABLY expected rebellions like Denmark Vesey’s,

and he probably expected grandiose betrayals like Peter Prioleau’s. He
did not expect the Missouri Question. Weeks after Charles Fenton
Mercer introduced the Slave Trade Act, which led to America’s first
colony in Africa, his New York colleague James Tallmadge Jr. tacked
an amendment onto a bill admitting Missouri to the Union that would
have barred the admission of enslaved Africans into the new state.
The Tallmadge Amendment sparked a smoldering fire of debate that
burned for two years. Ultimately, it was tempered—but not extin-
guished—by the Missouri Compromise of 1820. Congress agreed to
admit Missouri as a slave state and Maine as a free state, and to pro-
hibit the introduction of slavery in the northern section of the vast
Louisiana Territory, which Jefferson had purchased from France.
Thomas Jefferson did not make much of the early Missouri Ques-
tion debate. He expected it to pass “like waves in a storm pass under
the ship.” When the storm did not pass, he became worried, and he
soon described the storm as “the most portentous one which ever yet
threatened our Union.” By 1820, he was warning of a civil war that
could become a racial war, and that could then develop into “a war of
extermination toward the African in our land.”
The Missouri Question had roused Jefferson “like a fire bell in the
night,” as he told Massachusetts congressman John Holmes on April
22, 1820. “I considered it at once,” he wrote, “the knell of the union.”
He gave Holmes his stump speech on emancipation: no man wanted
it more than him, but no workable plan for compensating owners and
colonizing the freed had been put forth. “As it is,” he said, “we have the
wolf by the ears, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go.”
What could be done? “Justice is in one scale and self-preservation in
the other.”
Jefferson, the nation’s most famous antislavery anti-abolitionist,
longed for the Louisiana Territory, which he purchased in 1803, to
become the republic’s hospital, the place where the illnesses of the
original states could be cured—most notably, the illness of slavery.
Enslaved Africans would be spread out in the vast Louisiana Territory
(if not sent to Africa). The “diffusion [of enslaved Africans] over a
152 tamped from the Beginning
greater surface would make them individually happier, and proportion-
ally facilitate the accomplishment of their emancipation, by dividing
the burden on a great number of coadjutors.” Jefferson dreamed that
the vast Louisiana Territory could swallow slavery. Spread enslaved
Africans out, and they will go away?14
Jefferson adamantly came to believe that Black freedom should
not be discussed in the White halls of Congress, and that southern-
ers should be left alone to solve the problem of slavery at their own
pace, in their own way. In his younger years, he had considered grad-
ual emancipation and colonization to be the solution. His gradualism
turned into procrastination. In his final years, Jefferson said that “on
the subject of emancipation I have ceased to think because [it is] not
to be the work of my day.” Slavery had become too lucrative, to too
many slaveholders, for emancipation to be Jefferson’s work of those
For Jefferson, the Missouri Question was personal. If slavery could
not continue its western expansion, his finances might be affected by
the decreased demand for enslaved Africans in the domestic slave
trade. As he agonized over the future livelihood of the United States
and his own economic prospects, Jefferson could not have helped
but think of the nation’s past and his own past—and how both had
reached this point of no return. Seventy-seven years old in 1821, Jeffer-
son decided to “state some recollections of dates and facts concerning
myself.” The Autobiography of Thomas Jefferson runs less than one hundred
pages and ends when he becomes US secretary of state in 1790. In this
work, Jefferson attempted once again to secure his antislavery creden-
tials, after training for a lifetime as a slaveholder: “Nothing is more cer-
tainly written in the book of fate than that these people are to be free,”
he wrote. “Nor is it less certain that the two races, equally free, cannot
live in the same government. Nature, habit, opinion has drawn indel-
ible lines of distinction between them.” In forty years, nothing had
diminished his need to produce racist ideas—not the Black exhibits,
uplift suasion, letters from abolitionists, Sally Hemings, or the loyalty
or the resistance of enslaved Africans. Jefferson shared the same view
in his Autobiography in 1821 that he had in Notes in 1781. He promoted
Colonization 153

the colonization idea, that freed Blacks be hauled away to Africa in the
same manner that enslaved Blacks had been hauled to America.16

IN THE 1820 S, the American Colonization Society grew into the preem-
inent race-relations reform organization in the United States. Jefferson
was again endorsing colonization, and calculating segregationists were
beginning to see it as a solution to Black resistance. Altruistic assim-
ilationists figured that it was a way to develop Black people in both
America and Africa. In 1825, a twenty-eight-year-old Yale alumnus,
Ralph Gurley, became the new ACS secretary. He held the position
until his death in 1872, while also serving twice as the chaplain of the
House of Representatives. Gurley had a vision: he believed that to win
the minds and souls of Americans to the colonization cause, it had to
be linked to the Protestant movement. His timing was good, because
the Second Great Awakening was at hand as he began his ACS post.
The American Bible Society, the American Sunday School Union,
and the American Tract Society were all established in this period,
and they each used the printing press to besiege the nation with
Bibles, tracts, pictures, and picture cards that would help to create a
strong, unified, Jesus-centered national identity. A good tract “should
be entertaining,” announced the American Tract Society in 1824. “There
must be something to allure the listless to read.” Allurement—those
pictures of holy figures—had long been considered a sinful trick of
Satan and “devilish” Catholics. No more. Protestant organizations
started mass-producing, mass-marketing, and mass-distributing images
of Jesus, who was always depicted as White. Protestants saw all the
aspirations of the new American identity in the White Jesus—a racist
idea that proved to be in their cultural self-interest. As pictures of this
White Jesus started to appear, Blacks and Whites started to make con-
nections, consciously and unconsciously, between the White God the
Father, his White son Jesus, and the power and perfection of White
people. “I really believed my old master was almighty God,” runaway
Henry Brown admitted, “and that his son, my young master, was Jesus
154 tamped from the Beginning
As the revived Protestant movement ignited the enthusiasm of
students, professors, clergymen, merchants, and legislators in New
England, the American Colonization Society drew more people into
its fold. While southern colonizationists sought to remove free Blacks,
northerners sought to remove all Blacks, enslaved and freed. North-
ern race relations had grown progressively worse since the 1790s,
defying uplift suasion. Each uplifting step of Black people stoked ani-
mosity, and runaways stoked further animosity. Race riots embroiled
New York City, New Haven, Boston, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh in
the 1820s. As racial tensions accumulated, the ACS continued to gain
adherents to the cause. Its agents argued forcefully that White prej-
udice and Black slavery would be eternal, and that freed Blacks must
use the talents they had acquired from Whites to go back and redeem
unenlightened Africa. By 1832, every northern state legislature had
passed resolutions of endorsement for the colonization idea.18
Free Blacks remained overwhelmingly against colonization. Their
resistance to the concept partly accounted for the identifier “Negro”
replacing “African” in common usage in the 1820s. Free Blacks
theorized that if they called themselves “African,” they would be giv-
ing credence to the notion that they should be sent back to Africa.
Their own racist ideas were also behind the shift in terminology. They
considered Africa and its cultural practices to be backward, having
accepted racist notions of the continent. Some light-skinned Blacks
preferred “colored,” to separate themselves from dark-skinned Negroes
or Africans.19
For many, the colonization movement gave a new urgency to the
idea of uplift suasion. Racist free Blacks thought uplift suasion offered
Black people a way to prove their worthiness to White elites. In 1828,
Boston preacher Hosea Easton urged a Thanksgiving Day crowd of
Rhode Island Black folk to “come out of this degrading course of life.”
By uplifting themselves, they would “demand respect from those who
exalt themselves above you.”20
As part of the renewed effort to promote uplift suasion, a group
of free Blacks established the nation’s first Black newspaper, Freedom’s
Journal, with its headquarters in New York City. The two editors were
Colonization 155

both biracial: Samuel Cornish, a Presbyterian preacher, and John Russ-

wurm, the third African American college graduate in the United
States. Their mission was to chronicle the uplift of the North’s 500,000
free Blacks in order to reduce prejudice. “The further decrease of
prejudice, and the amelioration of the condition of thousands of our
brethren who are yet in bondage greatly depend on our conduct,” the
Freedom’s Journal said in its opening editorial on March 16, 1827. “It is
for us to convince the world by uniform propriety of conduct, indus-
try and economy, that we are worthy of esteem and patronage.”21
The editors and the elite Blacks they represented often focused,
however, on the conduct of the “lower classes of our people,” whom
they blamed for bringing the race down. Class racism dotted the pages
of the Freedom’s Journal, with articles pitting lower-income Blacks against
upper-income Blacks, and the former being portrayed as inferior to
the latter. Cornish and Russwurm did sometimes defend low-income
Blacks. As New York planned to emancipate its remaining captives on
July 4, 1827, the mainstream newspapers announced their disapproval.
Freed Africans would “increase” the city’s “criminal calendar, pauper
list and dandy register,” stammered the Morning Chronicle. Cornish and
Russwurm admonished the newspaper for its “vulgar” attack while
agreeing with much of the reasoning behind it. The Africans about to
be freed were “an injured people,” the editors pleaded, “and we think it
beneath the character of a public Editor, to add insult to injury.”22
Cornish and Russwurm eventually split on colonization, prompting
Cornish’s resignation. Russwurm decided to endorse the American Col-
onization Society in 1829, dooming his newspaper in anti-colonizationist
Black America. After putting the first Black newspaper to bed, Russ-
wurm departed for Liberia, convinced that he had given his all, but he
nevertheless had lost the battle against America’s racist ideas. He failed
to realize that he had contributed to the racist ideas. He had used the
first African American periodical to circulate the ideas of class racism.
He had said that lower-income Blacks had an inferior work ethic, infe-
rior intelligence, and inferior morality compared to White people and
Black elites like him. One reason poor Blacks were discriminated against,
he expressed, was that they were inferior. Russwurm had used his paper
156 tamped from the Beginning
to circulate the enslaving strategy of uplift suasion, a strategy that com-
pelled free Blacks to worry about their every action in front of White
people, just as their enslaved brethren worried about their every action
in front of their enslavers.23

THE AGENTS OF the American Colonization Society practically ignored

the ire of most free Blacks, and they could afford to do so. Donations
streamed into the national office. The society’s annual income leaped
from $778 in 1825 (about $16,000 in 2014) to $40,000 a decade later
(about $904,000 in 2014). State colonization societies sprang up in
nearly every western and northern state. But the ACS never attracted
its greatest patron saint: Thomas Jefferson. The former president only
tracked the development of the ACS from afar. He was suspicious of
the organization because he could not stand the Federalists and the
Presbyterians behind it.24
Jefferson may not have supported the ACS, but he never wavered
in his support for the colonizationist idea during his final years. Estab-
lishing a colony in Africa “may introduce among the aborigines the
arts of cultivated life, and the blessing of civilization and science,” he
wrote to historian and future Harvard president Jared Sparks on Feb-
ruary 4, 1824. Apparently, Black Americans would civilize the conti-
nent under the tutelage of those White Americans who had civilized
them. It would compensate for “the long course of injuries” they had
endured, Jefferson said, such that in the end, America “[would] have
rendered them perhaps more good than evil.”25
A string of illnesses slowed Jefferson down in 1825. He still read,
and he may have perused the first issue of the society’s African Repos-
itory and Colonial Journal in March. The issue opened with a history of
the ACS, which gave a nod to Jefferson, and ended by speaking of the
four hundred settlers in Liberia “standing in lonely beauty.” In another
piece, entitled “Observations on the Early History of the Negro Race,”
a writer identified as “T.R.” took aim at polygenesists who spoke of
Black people as a separate species, incapable of civilization, or “the
connecting link between men and monkies.” The polygenesists must
Colonization 157

not know, T.R. wrote, “that the people who they traduce, were for
more than a thousand years . . . the most enlightened on the globe.”
T.R. cited Jefferson’s old friend Count Constantine Volney, the
French historian who forty years earlier had said the ancient Egyp-
tians were of African descent. After several pages passionately demon-
strating that the ancient Egyptians were African, T.R. declared that
America should “carry back by colonies to Africa, now in barbarism,
the blessings which . . . were received from her.” Civilization was sup-
posedly exhausted in Africa, but awakened in Europe, T.R. stated.
But how did the originators of civilization produce such a region of
ignorance and barbarism? How did they forget the arts and sciences?
These questions were not asked, and they went unanswered. As assim-
ilationists, the only point colonizationists like T.R. tried to make was
that since Africans had been civilized in an earlier time, they could be
civilized once again.26
By the time the ACS released the second volume of its periodical
in the spring of 1826, Jefferson’s health had deteriorated to the point
that he could not leave home. By June, he could not leave his bed. Late
that month, writer Henry Lee IV—known to Jefferson as the grand-
son of a Revolutionary War hero—desired a meeting with him. When
the bedridden Jefferson learned of Lee’s presence, he demanded to see
him. The half-brother of future Confederate general Robert E. Lee
was Jefferson’s last visitor.
Jefferson had to decline an invitation to Washington to attend
the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. He sent
a celebratory statement to Washington instead, saying: “The general
spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the
palpable truth that the mass of mankind has not been born with sad-
dles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to
ride them legitimately, by the grace of God.” His last public words—
so sweet to every free person, so bitter to the enslaved.27
Aside from his Hemings children (and Sally Hemings), Jefferson
did not free any of the other enslaved people at Monticello. One histo-
rian estimated that Jefferson had owned more than six hundred slaves
over the course of his lifetime. In 1826, he held around two hundred
158 tamped from the Beginning
people as property and he was about $100,000 in debt (about $2 mil-
lion in 2014), an amount so staggering that he knew that once he died,
everything—and everyone—would be sold.
On July 2, 1826, Jefferson seemed to be fighting to stay alive. The
eighty-three-year-old awoke before dawn on July 4 and beckoned his
enslaved house servants. The Black faces gathered around his bed.
They were probably his final sight, and he gave them his final words.
He had come full circle. In his earliest childhood memory and in his
final lucid moment, Jefferson rested in the comfort of slavery.28

William Lloyd Garrison


Gradual Equalit y
IT WAS THE STORY of the age—Thomas Jefferson and John Adams dying
on July 4, 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Indepen-
dence. No other headline had ever before caused such amazement.
Many thought the twin deaths on Freedom Day must have been an act
of divine will, an undeniable sign that the United States had the bless-
ing of God Almighty. Newspapers could not print enough eulogies,
anecdotes, letters, statements, and biographical pieces on the two men
whom Benjamin Rush had once called “the North and South Poles of
the American Revolution.”1
John Adams died in his home in Quincy, due south of the over-
grown maritime city of Boston. By the time of Adams’s death, Boston
had grown to nearly 60,000 people and was fully immersed in New
England’s industrial revolution, which ran on the wheels of southern
cotton. The odd collection of philosophies, business dealings, denom-
inations, interest groups, and moral movements visitors encountered
in the seaside city might have been enough to make them dizzy. But
none of the moral movements were trying to stamp out the nation’s
most immoral institution. The Revolutionary-era abolitionist move-
ment was pretty much dead. Jefferson’s fatalism about the difficulty of
solving the problem of evil slavery, and his habit of deflecting blame
for it onto the British, had become entrenched across the nation. The
convention of abolitionist societies that Benjamin Rush had gathered
together in 1794 still existed, but it was no longer much of a force
for change. Tiny antislavery societies in the Upper South and in the

162 tamped from the Beginning
North were being swallowed up by colonizationists and their racist
Every moral cause seemed to have its day on the annual giving
schedule for New England philanthropists. The American Coloniza-
tion Society imprinted its cause onto America’s greatest national hol-
iday, Independence Day. On July 4, 1829, the ACS invited a young
newcomer to give the Fourth of July Address at the distinguished Park
Street Church in Boston. Since arriving in the city in 1826, the twenty-

three-year-old William Lloyd Garrison had amassed a reputation as a
reform-minded, pious, and passionate editor, the usual characteristics
of a forthright champion of colonization.
His mother, Frances Maria Lloyd, was the source of his piety. She
had raised him and his two siblings as a single mother in Newbury-
port, Massachusetts. They had been poor, but her Baptist faith had
brought them through the rough times. He remembered the poverty
and her maternal lessons like it was yesterday. When he and his older
brother had come home carrying food from their mother’s employers
or the town’s soup kitchen, they had endured a gauntlet of taunts from
the richer kids on the street. But Frances Maria Lloyd preached to
them about human worth: though they were low on funds, they were
not low as people.
His older brother had been a difficult boy to raise, but William
Lloyd was a model child, seeking only to please his mother. In 1818,
when he was twelve, he had begun a seven-year indenture to Ephraim
W. Allen, the talented editor of the Newburyport Herald. When he was
not busy learning the printing trade or writing letters to his mother,
who had moved to Baltimore, he was usually intent on educating him-
self through reading. He devoured the works of Cotton Mather and
tracts by politicians and other clergyman proclaiming New England’s
peculiar destiny to civilize the world. He especially enjoyed the nov-
els of Sir Walter Scott, whose heroes changed the world through the
might of their character and their readiness to sacrifice their blood for
human justice. He also admired the work of the English poet Felicia
Hemans, which was praised for its moral purity.
radual quality 163

William Lloyd Garrison’s mother died before his indenture ended
in 1825. In one of her final requests to her son that did not involve
religion, Frances pleaded with him to “remember[,] . . . for your poor
mother’s sake,” the Black woman, Henny, who had kindly cared for
her. “Although a slave to man,” Frances wrote her son, she is “yet a
free-born soul by the grace of God.”
Freed of his indenture, and now skilled in the printing trade, Garri-
son moved to Boston and secured an editorship at a temperance paper.
He had a personal interest in the temperance movement. His absent
father had never left liquor, and his older brother had been seduced
by it. Garrison probably would have become one of the most notable
voices for temperance of the age. But a year before his Independence
Day Address for the American Colonization Society, an itinerant abo-
litionist came along to change the course of his life.3
Garrison first met the Quaker founder and editor of the Genius of
Universal Emancipation on March 17, 1828. He sat next to eight esteemed
Boston clergymen listening to Benjamin Lundy in the parlor of his
boardinghouse, which was owned by a local Baptist minister. Up from
Baltimore, Lundy was in town raising money for his newspaper and
raising support for emancipation. The wrongs of enslavement Lundy
spoke about that night wrenched Garrison’s heart. And Lundy’s activ-
ist’s life, no doubt inspired by John Woolman, thrilled Garrison. The
man seemed to be straight out of a Walter Scott novel—he had given
speeches in nineteen of the twenty-four states, traveled 12,000 miles,
engaged in marathon debates with slave owners, been beaten in Balti-
more for his beliefs. Authorities had attempted to suppress his paper,
but he had kept saying what he believed: “Nothing is wanting . . . but
the will.” He had continued to publish his crude sketches of slave coffles
under the title “Hail Columbia!” and a stinging demand: “LOOK AT
IT, again and again!” While Garrison sat on the edge of his seat, the
eight ministers sat back. They politely listened, but only one offered
to help. The others saw nothing to gain and a lot to lose in the cause
of emancipation. They feared that a push for emancipation would only
cause social disorder.
164 tamped from the Beginning
Before the meeting, Garrison—like the lazy ministers sitting
beside him—probably thought nothing could be done about the evil
institution of slavery. It’s not that they were in favor of it, but that
they thought trying to abolish it was a hopeless cause. As Garrison
listened to Lundy, everything changed. Garrison crawled into bed that
night enthusiastic about working toward Lundy’s aim of provoking
“gradual, though total, abolition of slavery in the United States.” Soon
after Lundy’s visit, Garrison resigned from his temperance newspaper
and thrust himself into the antislavery cause. Little did he know that
almost four decades would pass before he could stop pressing America
to free itself of slavery.4

ALMOST FROM HIS first words in 1829, agents of the American Coloni-
zation Society knew they had selected the wrong Independence Day
speaker. “I am sick of  .  .  . our hypocritical cant about the rights of
man,” Garrison bellowed, making the church crowd uncomfortable.
We should be demanding “a gradual abolition of slavery,” not pro-
moting colonization. It was a “pitiful subterfuge” to say that libera-
tion would hurt the enslaved. If enslavement had reduced Blacks to
“brutes,” then was it “a valid argument to say that therefore they must
remain brutes?” Freedom and education would “elevate [Blacks] to a
proper rank in the scale of being.”5
Ten days later, Garrison attended a Black Baptist church and par-
ticipated in the annual celebration of England’s abolition of the slave
trade. A White clergyman addressed the largely Black crowd, lectur-
ing them that emancipation was neither wise nor safe without a long
period qualifying Blacks for freedom. A murmur of disgust shot from
the crowd, and an ACS agent leaped to the speaker’s defense.
The murmur rang in Garrison’s ears as he walked home that night.
In the Independence Day Address, he had called immediate emancipa-
tion a “wild vision.” But was it really wild? Or was it wilder to stand on
some middle ground between sinful slavery and righteous freedom? “I
saw there was nothing to stand upon,” Garrison admitted. In August,
radual quality 165

Garrison moved to Baltimore to join Benjamin Lundy and co-edit the
Genius of Universal Emancipation.6

FROM THE EDITORIAL page of the Genius of Universal Emancipation, Garri-

son called for immediate emancipation in September 1829. This new
position was not only a change from his own view of two months ear-
lier, but a stance more bold than even Benjamin Lundy’s. “No valid
excuse can be given for the continuance of the evil [of slavery] a single
hour,” he wrote—not even colonization. Colonization could be used
to relieve some enslaved Africans, of course, but as a solution to the
problem of slavery it was “altogether inadequate.” 7
A disciple of Denmark Vesey agreed, and he let the world know it
about two months later, in November, when he published his Appeal . . .
to the Colored Citizens of the World. Antislavery activist David Walker was
part of the Black community in Boston, and Garrison may have already
crossed paths with him. The Whites, raged Walker in the pamphlet,
were “dragging us around in chains” to enrich themselves, “believing
firmly” that Black people had been made to serve them forever. “Did
our Creator make us to be slaves?” he asked. “Unless we try to refute
Mr. Jefferson’s arguments respecting us, we will only establish them.”
Walker appealed for Black people to refute and resist racism, and he
had the antiracist foresight to see that racism would only end when
slavery ended. Walker told enslaved Blacks to mobilize themselves for
the second American revolutionary war.
No Black person could have read Walker’s intoxicating Appeal
without being moved. And yet Walker watered down his appeal by
disparaging the very people he was calling upon to resist. Blacks were
“the most degraded, wretched, and abject set of beings that ever lived
since the world began,” he proclaimed. He cited the “inhuman system
of slavery,” Black ignorance, preachers, and colonizationists as all being
responsible for their present plight. In doing so, he regurgitated the
theory of how slavery had made Black people inferior. Walker repeated
popular racist contrasts of “enlightened Europe” and wretched Africa,
166 tamped from the Beginning
contrasts that had been reproduced by the gradual abolitionists, col-
onizationists, and the very enslavers he so fervently opposed. Walker
did not, however, share his opponents’ imaginative version of how
enlightened Europe had civilized Africa. He spoke instead of “enlight-
ened . . . Europe” plunging the “ignorant” fathers of Black people into a
“wretchedness ten thousand times more intolerable.”
In Walker’s historical racism, Africa was the place where “learn-
ing [had] originated” in antiquity. It had become a land of “ignorance”
since that time, however, because African people had been disobedi-
ent to their Maker. Cursed by God, Black people lacked political unity,
and that lack of unity had enabled their “natural enemies” in the United
States “to keep their feet on our throats.” David Walker was hardly the
first, and he was certainly not the last, Black activist to complain about
political disunity as a uniquely Black problem—as if White abolition-
ists were not betraying White enslavers, and as if White people were
more politically unified, and therefore superior politically and better
able to rule. Voting patterns never did quite support complaints of
Black disunity and White unity. In the late 1820s, Black male voters in
the Northeast typically supported the fading Federalists, while White
male voters were split between the two major parties. (Although the
parties have changed, similar voting patterns persist today.)
These racist ideas diluted Walker’s message, and yet it was still
intoxicatingly antiracist. Walker identified and decried America’s
favorite racist pastime: denying Blacks access to education and jobs
and then calling their resultant impoverished state “natural.” In closing,
Walker addressed enslaving America, courageously booming that he
was prepared to die for the “truth”: “For what is the use of living, when
in fact I am dead.” Give us freedom, give us rights, or one day you
will “curse the day that you ever were born!” He then reprinted parts
of Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, imploring Americans to
“See your Declaration!” Finally, he asked Americans to compare the
“cruelties” England had inflicted on them to those they had inflicted on
Black people.8
Walker’s Appeal spread quickly, forcing racial commentators
like Garrison to respond to its arguments. Garrison’s philosophical
radual quality 167

commitment to nonviolence caused him to deplore it as a “most inju-
dicious publication.” But he did concede in early 1830 that the Appeal
contained “many valuable truths and seasonable warnings.” By then,
the South had begun a dogged political and legal battle to suppress
the pamphlet. The North Carolina governor called the Appeal “totally
subversive of all subordination in our slaves”—a proclamation Walker
enjoyed reading. In the midst of (and probably because of) the com-
motion over Walker’s pamphlet, Baltimore authorities jailed Garrison
on April 17, 1830. Garrison did not seem to mind his seven weeks of
imprisonment. “A few white victims must be sacrificed to open the eyes
of this nation,” he declared upon his release in June, when a wealthy
abolitionist paid his fine.
David Walker died weeks later of tuberculosis. But the force of his
opposition to racism and slavery—save the part about violent resis-
tance—lived on in the pens and voices of his friends, especially the
firebrand abolitionist and feminist Maria Stewart. “It is not the color of
the skin that makes the man or the woman, but the principle formed
in the soul,” Stewart told Bostonians. Stewart’s four public lectures in
1832 and 1833 are known today as the first time an American-born
woman addressed a mixed audience of White and Black men and
women. And she was a pioneering Black feminist, at that. But some
called the idea of a mixed audience “promiscuous.”9
Lundy continued to publish the Genius, though irregularly, after
that, but he and Garrison parted ways. Garrison needed a new
medium to continue his antislavery advocacy. He headed north on
an antislavery lecture tour, where his opponents denigrated him as
“a second Walker,” and where he encountered “prejudice more stub-
born” than anywhere else. It was a sentiment Frenchman Alexis de
Tocqueville would echo after he toured the United States in 1831.
“The prejudice of race appears to be stronger in the states that have
abolished slavery than in those where it still exists,” Tocqueville shared
in his instant political-science classic, Democracy in America (1835). Toc-
queville described the vicious cycle of racist ideas, a cycle that made
persuading or educating racist ideas away nearly impossible. In “order
to induce whites to abandon” their opinions of Black inferiority, “the
168 tamped from the Beginning
negroes must change,” he wrote. “But, as long as this opinion persists,
to change is impossible.” The United States faced two options: col-
onization or the eradication or extinction of African Americans—
since uplift suasion, Tocqueville felt, would never work. Tocqueville
labeled colonization a “lofty” idea, but an impractical one. Extinction
remained the only option.10
Garrison had a different option in mind when he settled back in
Boston: immediate abolition and gradual equality. On Saturday, Janu-
ary 1, 1831, he published the first issue of The Liberator, the organ that
relaunched an abolitionist movement among White Americans. In his
first editorial manifesto, “To the Public,” Garrison made a “full and
unequivocal” recant of the “popular but pernicious doctrine of gradual
For the rest of his abolitionist life, Garrison never retreated on
immediate emancipation. He rebuked any talk of gradual abolition—
of preparing society and enslaved Africans for emancipation one day.
But he did make clear his preference for gradual equality, retreating on
immediate equality and outlining a process of civilizing Black people
to be equal one day. Garrison and his band of assimilationists would
stridently fight for gradual equality, calling antiracists who fought
for immediate equality impractical and crazy—just as segregationists
called him crazy for demanding immediate emancipation.
Black subscribers were the early lifeblood of The Liberator. Garrison
spoke to Black people in his newspaper and in speeches in New York
and Philadelphia. He pressed for free Blacks to challenge “every law
which infringes on your rights as free native citizens,” and to “respect
yourself, if you desire the respect of others.” They had “acquired,” and
would continue to acquire, “the esteem, confidence and patronage of
the whites, in proportion to your increase in knowledge and moral
improvement.” Garrison urged Blacks to acquire money, too, because
“money begets influence, and influence respectability.”
Garrison believed that the nearer Blacks “approached the whites
in their habits the better they were,” according to an early biogra-
pher. “They always seemed to him a social problem rather than simply
people.” When Blacks were seen as a social problem, the solution to
radual quality 169

racist ideas seemed simple. As Blacks rose, so would White opinions.
When Blacks were seen as simply people—a collection of imperfect
individuals, equal to the imperfect collection of individuals with white
skins—then Blacks’ imperfect behavior became irrelevant. Discrimina-
tion was the social problem: the cause of the racial disparities between
two equal collections of individuals.12
In emphasizing Black self-improvement to ward off racism, Garri-
son was reflecting the views of the elite Black activists who invited him
to their cities and subscribed to his newspaper. Black activists in many
cases saw each other as social problems that needed to be fixed. “If we
ever expect to see the influence of prejudice decrease and ourselves
respected, it must be by the blessings of an enlightenment education,”
resolved the attendees of Philadelphia’s Second Annual Convention
for the Improvement of Free People of Color in 1831.13

GARRISON WAS WRITING in response to the racial disparities and discrim-

ination he witnessed in the North, where Blacks were free. His calls
for an “increase in knowledge and moral improvement” among free
Blacks was an effort in uplift suasion not unlike the avowals of the edi-
tors of the first Black newspaper, the Freedom’s Journal. Of course, recent
history had not shown a proportional relationship between Black uplift
and White respect. The existence of upwardly mobile Blacks did not
slow the colonization movement, the spread of enslaved Africans into
the southwestern territories, or the unification of White commoners
and enslavers in the new anti-Black Democratic Party. When Tennes-
see enslaver and war hero Andrew Jackson became the new president
as the hero of democracy for White men and autocracy for others in
1829, the production and consumption of racist ideas seemed to be
quickening, despite recent Black advances. When Kentucky senator
Henry Clay organized aristocrats, industrialists, moralists, and coloni-
zationists into the Whig Party in 1832 to oppose Jackson’s Democratic
Party, racist ideas were spreading on pace within the United States.
In the early 1830s, the new urban penny press turned away
from the “good” news and printed more eye-catching “bad” news,
170 tamped from the Beginning
sensationalizing and connecting crime and Blackness and poverty.
Free Blacks had been forced into the shacks, cellars, and alleys of seg-
regated “Nigger Hill” in Boston, “Little Africa” in Cincinnati, or “Five
Points” in New York—“the worst hell of America,” wrote a visitor.
Black behavior—not the wrenching housing and economic discrimi-
nation—was blamed for these impoverished Black enclaves. As early as
1793, a White minister protested that “a Negro hut” had depreciated
property values in Salem. Similar protests surfaced in New Haven and
Indiana, and they had become commonplace in Boston by the time
Garrison settled there. The vicious housing cycle had already begun.
Racist policies harmed Black neighborhoods, generating racist ideas
that caused people not to want to live next to Blacks, which depressed
the value of Black homes, which caused people not to want to live in
Black neighborhoods even more, owing to low property values.14
Millions of the poor European immigrants pouring into northern
port cities after 1830 further amplified the housing discrimination and
threatened free Blacks’ hold on menial and service jobs. Native Whites
swung their rhetorical tools, long used to demean Blacks, and hit Irish
immigrants, calling them “white niggers.” Some Irish struck back at
this nativism. Others channeled—or were led to channel—their eco-
nomic and political frustrations into racist ideas, which then led to
more hatred of Black people.
It was in this environment of entrenched racism that America’s first
minstrel shows appeared, and they began attracting large audiences of
European immigrants, native Whites, and sometimes even Blacks. By
1830, Thomas “Daddy” Rice, who learned to mimic African Ameri-
can English (today called “Ebonics”), was touring the South, perfect-
ing the character that thrust him into international prominence: Jim
Crow. Appearing in blackface, and dressed in rags, torn shoes, and a
weathered hat, Jim Crow sang and danced as a stupid, childlike, cheer-
ful Black field hand. Other minstrel characters included “Old darky,”
the thoughtless, musical head of an enslaved family, and “Mammy,”
the hefty asexual devoted caretaker of Whites. The biracial, beauti-
ful, sexually promiscuous “yaller gal” titillated White men. “Dandy,”
or “Zip Coon,” was an upwardly mobile northern Black male who
radual quality 171

mimicked—outrageously—White elites. Typically, minstrel shows
included a song-and-dance portion, a variety show, and a plantation
skit. In the decades leading up to the Civil War, blackface minstrelsy
became the first American theatrical form, the incubator of the Amer-
ican entertainment industry. Exported to excited European audiences,
minstrel shows remained mainstream in the United States until around
1920 (when the rise of racist films took their place).15
Amid the illogic and perpetual challenges to racist ideas over the
course of the nineteenth century, superior Whiteness found a normal-
izing shield in blackface minstrelsy. In 1835 and 1836, those who did
not like minstrel shows could see the “Greatest Natural and National
Curiosity in the World.” A bankrupt twenty-five-year-old, P. T. Bar-
num, started showing off Joice Heth, who he claimed was 161 years
old. What’s more, he said, she was the former mammy of George
Washington. And she looked the part, with her skeletal frame, para-
lyzed arm and legs, deeply wrinkled skin, toothless grin, “talons” for
nails, and nearly blind eyes. Most of all, Heth’s dark skin made her
longevity believable. Longevity was common in Africa, the Evening Star
told its readers. P. T. Barnum, of course, would go on to become one
of the greatest showmen in American history, exhibiting all kinds of
“freaks,” including whitening Blacks. Physical assimilationists contin-
ued to view them with pleasure, declaring that skin-color change was
what would eventually cure the nation’s racial ills.16
In addition to minstrel shows and “freak” shows, a series of nov-
els and children’s books produced racist ideas to inculcate younger
and younger children. John Pendleton Kennedy’s novel Swallow Barn
(1832) inaugurated the plantation genre that more or less recycled
minstrel-show mammies and Sambos as characters in inebriating nov-
els. Boston-born South Carolina enslaver Caroline Gilman wrote the
plantation genre into The Rose Bud, the South’s first weekly magazine
for children, established in 1832. Reading Gilman (but more often,
simply observing their parents), southern White children played
master, or worse, overseer, with enslaved Black playmates, ordering
them, ridiculing them, and tormenting them. Enslaved children took
solace in outwitting their free playmates in physical games, such as
172 tamped from the Beginning
anything involving running, jumping, or throwing. “We was stronger
and knowed how to play, and the white children didn’t,” recalled one
ex-slave. In slavery, both Black and White children were building a
sense of self on a foundation of racist ideas.17
This was the America that The Liberator entered in the 1830s, a
land where Black people were simultaneously seen as scary threats,
as sources of comedy, and as freaks. In their totality, all these racist
ideas—emanating from minstrel shows, from “freak” shows, from liter-
ature, from newspapers, and from the Democrats and Whigs—looked
down upon Black people as the social problem. Garrison loathed the
shows and the literature, and he loathed those politicians, too. And yet
he also crafted Black people as the social problem.

ONE ENSLAVED VIRGINIAN did not share Garrison’s view that enslaved
Africans should wait while White abolitionists and refined free Blacks
solved the problem through nonviolent tactics of persuasion. This
preacher rejected uplift suasion, and he rejected racist talk of Black
behavior as part of the problem. On the evening of August 21, 1831,
Nat Turner and five of his disciples, believing they had been given a
task by God, began their fight against the problem in Southampton
County. Turner killed his master’s family, snatched arms and horses,
and moved on to the next plantation. Twenty-four hours later, about
seventy freed people had joined the crusade.
After two days, seventy Black soldiers had killed at least fifty-seven
enslavers across a twenty-mile path of destruction before the rebel-
lion was put down. Panic spread as newspapers everywhere blared the
gory details of the “Southampton Tragedy.” Before his hanging, Turner
shared his liberation theology with a local lawyer named Thomas
Gray. “I heard a loud noise in the heavens, and the Spirit instantly
appeared to me and said the Serpent was loosened, and Christ had laid
down the yoke he had borne for the sins of men, and that I should take
it on and fight against the Serpent, for the time was fast approaching,
when the first should be the last and the last should be the first.”
radual quality 173

“Do you find yourself mistaken now?” Gray had flatly asked. “Was
not Christ crucified?” Turner replied.18
“We are horror-struck,” Garrison wrote of the rebellion. In Amer-
ica’s “fury against the revolters,” who would remember the “wrongs”
of slavery? Garrison would, and he listed them. But he could not con-
done the strategy of violence. He did not realize that some, if not
most, enslavers would die rather than set their wealth free. Garrison
pledged his undying commitment to his philosophy: that the best way
to “accomplish the great work of national redemption” was “through
the agency of moral power,” that is, of moral persuasion.
If Blacks did not violently resist, then they were cast as naturally
servile. And yet, whenever they did fight, reactionary commentators,
in both North and South, classified them as barbaric animals who
needed to be caged in slavery. Those enslavers who sought comfort
in myths of natural Black docility hunted for those whom they consid-
ered the real agitators: abolitionists like Garrison. Georgia went as far
as offering a reward of $5,000 (roughly $109,000 today) for anyone
who brought Garrison to the state for trial. But the ransom did not
stop Garrison from issuing weekly reports and antislavery commen-
tary in The Liberator on the debates that raged in response to the Nat
Turner Rebellion.
The newspaper had just expanded its number of pages, thanks to
funds from the newly formed New England Anti-Slavery Society, the
first non-Black organization committed to immediate emancipation.
In response to The Liberator’s expansion, a Connecticut editor scoffed,
Georgia legislators ought “to enlarge their reward” for Garrison’s head
“accordingly.” Georgia legislators ought to put out rewards for Vir-
ginia’s legislators, Garrison shot back. They were “seriously talking of
breaking the fetters of their happy and loving slaves.”19
After Turner’s rebellion, Virginians started seriously contem-
plating the end of slavery. It was not from the moral persuasion of
nonviolent abolitionists, but from the fear of slave revolts, or the
“smothered volcano” that could one day kill them all. During the win-
ter of 1831–1832, undercover abolitionists, powerful colonizationists,
174 tamped from the Beginning
and hysterical legislators in Virginia raised their voices against slavery.
In the end, proslavery legislators batted away every single antislav-
ery measure, and ended up pushing through an even more harrowing
slave code than the one that had been in place. Proslavery legislators
repressed the very captives they said were docile, and restricted the
education of the very people they argued could not be educated. Rac-
ist ideas, clearly, did not generate these slave codes. Enslaving interests
generated these slave codes. Racist ideas were produced to preserve
the enslaving interests.20
William Lloyd Garrison did not realize this. But he did realize that
these enslaving interests were, in fact, not emancipation’s greatest foe.
On June 1, 1832, Garrison offered his thoughts on the matter in his
first and only book. “Out of thine own mouth will I condemn thee,” he
wrote, and he went on to lace the book with quotations from coloniza-
tionists proving that they were proslavery, enemies of “immediate abo-
lition” who aimed “at the utter expulsion of the Blacks,” and who denied
“the possibility of elevating the blacks in this country.” Garrison con-
cluded with seventy-six pages of anticolonization proclamations from
“people of color.” The book, entitled Thoughts on African Colonization,
was a devastating assault on what had become one of the country’s
most powerful racial reform organizations. With Garrison’s book in
hand, abolitionists declared war on the American Colonization Soci-
ety. It was an assault from which the society never recovered.21
It was not the only devastating assault the society bore in 1832.
Representing southern slaveholders opposed to colonization, Col-
lege of William & Mary professor Thomas Roderick Dew released his
Review of the Debate in the Virginia Legislature of 1831 and 1832 within a month
of Thoughts. Dew was the child of Virginia planters and had been pro-
foundly influenced by Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations. “The planta-
tions at the south” should “be cultivated” by enslaved Africans who
can “resist the intensity of a southern sun” and “endure the fatigues
attendant on the cultivation of rice, cotton, tobacco and sugar-cane,
better than white labourers.” Therefore, the “banishment of one-sixth
of our population . . . would be an act of suicide.” Thomas Roderick
Dew—actually William Lloyd Garrison wrote this bigoted statement
radual quality 175

in Thoughts on African Colonization. Dew agreed in his book. These anti-
slavery and proslavery advocates agreed on much more. Like Garri-
son, Dew considered colonization to be an evil and impractical idea.
Black people, “though vastly inferior in the scale of civilization,” and
though unable to work “except by compulsion,” still constituted the
cheap labor force that the southern economy needed, Dew wrote.22
The US Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee had offered the
same reasoning in rejecting the American Colonization Society’s
latest plea for funds in 1828. Since Blacks performed “various neces-
sary menial duties,” the committee members concluded, colonization
would create a vacuum in cheap labor in seaboard cities, thus increas-
ing labor costs. These various menial and service duties included the
work done by day laborers, mariners, servants, waiters, barbers, coach-
men, shoe-shiners, and porters for men, and washers, dressmakers,
seamstresses, and domestics for the women. “We see them engaged
in no business that requires even ordinary capacity,” a commentator
from Pennsylvania observed. “The mass are improvident, and seek
the lowest avocations.” Racist policies forcing free Blacks into menial
jobs were being defended by racist claims that lazy and unskilled Black
people were best for those positions. Racial discrimination was off the
hook, and cities received the assurance that their menial labor pools,
which the US Senate found so essential to the economy, were safe.23
Thomas Roderick Dew’s Review accomplished in enslaving circles
what Garrison’s Thoughts accomplished in abolitionist circles. “After
President Dew,” who became president of the College of William &
Mary in 1836, “it is unnecessary to say a single word on the practica-
bility of colonizing our slaves,” said one South Carolinian. The ACS
did its best to fight back. In November 1832, ACS secretary Ralph
Gurley argued that “it is not right that men should possess freedom,
for which they are entirely unprepared, [and] which can only prove
injurious to themselves and others.” Gurley’s piece, in the ACS’s jour-
nal, was the opening volley in a nasty ACS counteroffensive against
immediate abolitionists that took place on the lecture circuit, from
the pulpits, in the colleges, in the newspapers, and in the streets with
mobs. Still trying to woo enslavers over to the cause, the ACS did not
176 tamped from the Beginning
wage a similar offensive against Thomas Roderick Dew or the slave-
holders he represented.24
While White mobs made some hesitate, sixty-six abolitionists,
fearing only the threat of apathy, gathered in Philadelphia on Decem-
ber 4, 1833, to form the American Anti-Slavery Society (AASS). They
believed in the radical idea of “immediate emancipation, without expa-
triation.” The AASS was led by America’s most illustrious philanthro-
pist, New Yorker Arthur Tappan, and his rich brothers, future Ohio US
senator Benjamin Tappan and abolitionist Lewis Tappan, best known
for working to free the illegally enslaved Africans on the Amistad ship.
The impracticable strategy of uplift suasion was written into the AASS
constitution. “This Society shall aim to elevate the character and con-
ditions of the people of color, by encouraging their intellectual, moral
and religious improvement, and by removing public prejudice.”25
Garrison received a minor AASS post, as the relatively cautious
Tappan brothers and their friends were attempting to wrest control of
the abolitionist movement from Bostonians. More paternalistically and
brazenly than Garrison, the Tappan brothers instructed AASS agents
to instill in free Blacks “the importance of domestic order, and the per-
formance of relative duties in families; of correct habits; command of
temper and courteous manners.” Their mission: uplift the inferior free
Blacks to “an equality with whites.” And yet, AASS agents and sup-
porters were cautioned not to adopt Black children, encourage inter-
racial marriages, or excite “the people of color to assume airs.” Blacks
were to assume “the true dignity of meekness” in order to win over
their critics.
At the annual meeting of the AASS in May 1835, members
resolved to use new technologies to spread their gospel to potential
abolitionist converts. They relied on the mass printing machinery of
stereotyped plates, on cheap rag paper, on steam presses, and on new
railroads and an efficient postal service to overwhelm the nation with
20,000 to 50,000 copies a week of abolitionist tracts. The aim: “to
awaken the conscience of the nation to the evils of slavery.” Slavehold-
ers had no clue what was coming.26

Imbr uted or Civilized

AS ENSLAVERS CALMLY discussed profits, losses, colonization, torture
techniques, and the duties of Christian masters, they felt the spring
drizzle of abolitionist tracts. By the summer of 1835, it had become
a downpour—there were some 20,000 tracts in July alone, and over
1 million by the year’s end. Presenting slaveholders as evil, the litera-
ture challenged some racist ideas, such as the Black incapacity for free-
dom, yet at the same time produced other racist ideas, such as Africans
being naturally religious and forgiving people, who always responded
to whippings with loving compassion. The movement’s ubiquitous
logo pictured a chained African, kneeling, raising his weak arms up in
prayer to an unseen heavenly God or hovering White savior. Enslaved
Africans were to wait for enslavers to sustain them, colonizationists to
evacuate them, and abolitionists to free them.1
Enraged enslavers viewed the American Anti-Slavery Society’s
postal campaign as an act of war. Raging to defend “our sister states”
against abolitionists, White male thugs roamed northern Black neigh-
borhoods in the summer and fall of 1835, looting and destroying
homes, schools, and churches. They shouted about their mission to
protect White women from the hypersexual Black-faced animals that,
if freed, would ravage the exemplars of human purity and beauty. In
fact, after 1830, young, single, and White working-class women earn-
ing wages outside the home were growing less dependent on men
financially and becoming more sexually free. White male gang rapes
of White women began to appear around the same time as the gang

178 tamped from the Beginning
assaults by White men on Black people. Both were desperate attempts
to maintain White male supremacy.2
The most fearless and astute defender of slavery to emerge in the
wake of abolitionist pressures was Senator John C. Calhoun of South
Carolina, the son of rich planters who had served as vice president
under two presidents, John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson. Even
those who hated him could not deny his brilliance as a strategist and
communicator. Calhoun shared his latest and greatest proslavery strat-
egy on the Senate floor on February 6, 1837. Agitated by a Virginia
senator’s earlier reference to slavery as a “lesser evil,” Calhoun rose
to “take higher ground.” Once and for all, Calhoun wanted to bury
that old antislavery Jeffersonian concept. “I hold that . . . the relation
now existing in the slaveholding States between the two [races], is,
instead of an evil, a good—a positive good,” he said. Calhoun went on
to explain that it was both a positive good for society and a positive
good for subordinate Black people. Slavery, Calhoun suggested, was
racial progress.3
In a way, William Lloyd Garrison respected Calhoun, preferring
him and his bold proslavery candor over politicians like the timid
Henry Clay, who still believed in gradual abolitionism and coloniza-
tion. Nevertheless, he said Calhoun was “the champion of hell-born
slavery”: “His conscience is seared with a hot iron, his heart is a piece
of adamant.” For advocates of gradual emancipation, Garrison was a
radical because of his belief in immediate emancipation, whereas Cal-
houn was a radical for his support of perpetual slavery. Both Garri-
son and Calhoun regarded the other as the fanatical Devil Incarnate,
the destroyer of America, the decimator of all that was good in the
world and the keeper of all that was evil. Garrison needed more cour-
age than Calhoun. While Calhoun was the loudest voice in a national
choir of public figures shouting down Garrison, Garrison was nearly
alone among White public figures shouting down Calhoun.4
But neither Calhoun’s claims about slavery as a positive good nor
the threat of roving White mobs could stop the growing appeal of aboli-
tionism. Garrison had responded to a Boston mob in October 1835 with
majestic nonviolent resistance, and his conduct had pushed thousands
m ruted or Civilized 179

of northerners toward his personage and the cause of antislavery. As
many as 300,000 had joined the movement by the decade’s end.
As new converts rushed into the movement in the late 1830s, abo-
litionist splits widened. There were the Garrisonians, who refused to
participate in the “corrupt” political parties and churches, and the abo-
litionists, trying to bring the cause into these parties and churches.
Splits had grown apparent among Black abolitionists as well. No lon-
ger would antiracists calmly listen to people call Black behavior a
source of White prejudice. Peter Paul Simons, known for criticizing
the Colored American editor for believing that biracial people had “the
most talent,” became one of the first African Americans to publicly
attack the idea of uplift suasion. Before the African Clarkson Society
in New York City on April 23, 1839, Simons said the strategy reeked
of a conspiracy that put “white men at the head of even our private
affairs.” The “foolish thought of moral elevation” was “a conspicuous
scarecrow.” Blacks were already a moral people, the antiracist said.
“Show up to the world an African and you will show in truth morality.”
Simon demanded protest, calling for “a tion! a tion! a tion!”5
But antiracists had to contend against both powerful antislavery
assimilationists and the even more powerful proslavery segregationists.
Whig evangelist Calvin Colton demanded action against antislavery
in Abolition a Sedition and A Voice from America to England in 1839. “There is
no such thing as equality among men, nor can there be,” Colton wrote.
“Neither God nor man ever instituted equality.” Science affirmed
Colton’s view. There was a virtual consensus among scholars—from
Cambridge in Massachusetts to Cambridge in England—that racial
equality did not exist. The debate in 1839 still swirled around the ori-
gin of the races: monogenesis versus polygenesis.6

THE FOUNDER OF anthropology in the United States, Dr. Samuel Mor-

ton, jumped into the origins debate on September 1, 1839, when he
published Crania Americana. He had made use of his famous “American
Golgotha” at Philadelphia’s Academy of Natural Sciences, the world’s
largest collection of human skulls. Morton wanted to give scholars an
180 tamped from the Beginning
objective tool for distinguishing the races: mathematical comparative
anatomy. He had made painstaking measurements of the “mean inter-
nal capacity” of nearly one hundred skulls in cubic inches. Finding
that the skulls from the “Caucasian Race” measured out the largest
in that tiny sample, Morton concluded that Whites had “the highest
intellectual endowments” of all the races. He relied on an incorrect
assumption, however: the bigger the skull, the bigger the intellect of
the person.7
Loving reviews from distinguished medical journals and scien-
tists came pouring into Philadelphia about Morton’s “immense body
of facts.” Not from everyone, though. German Friedrich Tiedemann’s
skull measurements did not match Morton’s hierarchy. So Tiedemann
concluded there was racial equality. Like the Germantown petitioners
in the 1600s, and John Woolman in the 1700s, Tiedemann showed that
racists were never simply products of their time. Although most schol-
ars made the easy, popular, professionally rewarding choice of racism,
some did not. Some made the hard, unpopular choice of antiracism.8
One of the first major scientific controversies in the United States
began with what seemed like a simple observation. Harvard-trained,
antislavery psychiatrist Edward Jarvis reviewed data from the 1840 US
Census and found that northern free Blacks were about ten times more
likely to have been classified as insane than enslaved southern Blacks.
On September 21, 1842, he published his findings in the New England
Journal of Medicine, which was and remains the nation’s leading medical
journal. Slavery must have had “a wonderful influence upon the devel-
opment of the moral faculties and the intellectual powers” of Black
people, Jarvis ascertained.9
A month later, in the same journal, someone anonymously pub-
lished another purportedly scientific study, “Vital Statistics of Negroes
and Mulattoes.” Biracial people had shorter life spans than Whites and
“pure Africans,” the census apparently also showed. The writer called
for an investigation into “the cause of such momentous effects.” Dr.
Josiah C. Nott of Mobile, Alabama, came to the rescue in the Amer-
ican Journal of Medical Science in 1843. In “The Mulatto—A Hybrid,”
the distinguished surgeon contended that biracial women were “bad
m ruted or Civilized 181

breeders,” because they were the product of “two distinct species,”
the same way the mule was “from the horse and the ass.” Nott’s con-
tention was as outrageous as the insanity figures, but scientists repro-
duced it.10
When Jarvis looked more closely at the 1840 census data, he
found errors everywhere. Some northern towns reported more Black
lunatics than Black residents. Jarvis and the American Statistical Asso-
ciation asked the US government to correct the census. On February
26, 1844, the House of Representatives asked Secretary of State Abel
Upshur to investigate. He never had the opportunity. Two days later,
Upshur was among the six people killed on the warship USS Prince-
ton. President John Tyler named none other than John C. Calhoun as
Upshur’s replacement. Calhoun saw two matters on Upshur’s desk: the
census issue and an antislavery letter from the British foreign secre-
tary, Lord Aberdeen. The Brit expressed hope for universal emancipa-
tion and a free and independent Texas.11
Slaveholders’ pursuit of Texas’s annexation as a slave state was
guiding the 1844 election. Tennessee slaveholder James K. Polk, a
Democrat, narrowly defeated Whig Henry Clay, who lost swing votes
to James Birney of the new antislavery Liberty Party. Refusing to vote,
Garrison leaned on the American Anti-Slavery Society to adopt a
new slogan: “no union with slaveholders!” He was trying—and fail-
ing—to stop the drift of the movement toward politics. Antislavery
voting blocs had arisen in the 1840s. They were sending antislavery
congressmen to Washington—from John Quincy Adams of Massa-
chusetts to Joshua Reed Giddings of Ohio, and soon Thaddeus Ste-
vens of Pennsylvania, Owen Lovejoy of Ohio, and Charles Sumner of
Massachusetts. These congressmen were openly debating slavery and
emancipation after 1840, to the horror of John C. Calhoun.12
In April 1844, months after withdrawing his own presidential can-
didacy, Secretary Calhoun informed the British foreign secretary that
the treaty of annexation was a done deal. Slavery in Texas was a con-
cern of neither England nor the US government. The United States
must not emancipate its slaves because, as the census had proved, “the
condition of the African” was worse in freedom than in slavery.
182 tamped from the Beginning
Needing more data to defend US slavery before Western Europe,
Calhoun sought out the latest scientific information on the races. He
summoned pioneering Egyptologist George R. Gliddon, who had just
arrived in Washington as part of his national speaking tour on the
wonders of ancient “White” Egypt. Gliddon sent Calhoun copies of
Morton’s Crania Americana and Morton’s newest, acclaimed bombshell,
Crania Aegyptiaca, which depicted ancient Egypt as a land of Caucasian
rulers, Hebrews, and Black slaves. Morton’s research, Gliddon added
in a letter to Calhoun, proved that “Negro-Races” had always “been
Servants and Slaves, always distinct from, and subject to, the Cauca-
sian, in the remotest times.” Bolstered by Gliddon’s “facts,” Calhoun
defended American domestic policy before antislavery Europe. The
“facts” of the 1840 census were never corrected—and slavery’s apol-
ogists never stopped wielding its “unquestionable” proof of slavery’s
positive good. They continued to assert that slavery brought racial
progress—almost certainly knowing that this proof was untrue. “It is
too good a thing for our politicians to give [up],” a Georgia congress-
man reportedly confessed. On the eve of the Civil War, a Unitarian
clergyman said it best: “It was the census that was insane, and not the
colored people.”13

THE FIRM POLITICAL and scientific support for slavery made it all the more
difficult for the abolitionists to change the minds of the consumers of
slavery’s “positive good.” Would the voice of a runaway, expressing
his or her own horrific experience, be more convincing? In 1841, Wil-
liam Lloyd Garrison spent three joyous days with abolitionists on the
nearby island of Nantucket. As the August 11 session came to a close,
a tall twenty-three-year-old runaway mustered the courage to request
the floor. This was the first time many White abolitionists had ever
heard a runaway share his experience of the grueling trek from slavery
to freedom. Impressed, the Massachusetts Antislavery Society (MAS)
offered Frederick Douglass a job as a traveling speaker. Douglass
then emerged as America’s newest Black exhibit. He was introduced
to audiences as a “chattel,” a “thing,” a “piece of southern property,”
m ruted or Civilized 183

before he shared the brutality of slavery. Though he understood the
strategy of shocking White Americans into antislavery, Douglass grew
to dislike the regular dehumanization. Whether enslaved or free, Black
people were people. Although their enslavers tried, they had never
been reduced to things. Their humanity had never been eliminated—a
humanity that made them equal to people the world over, even in their
chains. Douglass was and always had been a man, and he wanted to be
introduced as such.
Douglass also grew tired of merely telling his story over and over
again. He had honed his speaking ability and developed his own ideas.
Whenever he veered off script into his philosophy, he heard a whisper:
“Tell your story, Frederick.” Afterward, White abolitionists would say
to him, “Give us the facts, we will take care of the philosophy.” And
do not sound like that when you give the facts: “Have a little of the
plantation manner of speech than not; ’tis not best that you seem too
learned.” Douglass knew exactly why they said that. Usually, minutes
into his speeches, Douglass could hear the crowd grumbling, “He’s
never been a slave.” And that reaction made sense. Racist abolitionists
spoke endlessly about how slavery had made people into brutes. Dou-
glass was clearly no brute.14
When Douglass was finally able to tell his story and philosophy
in full in his own words, it offered perhaps the most compelling coun-
terweight yet to the 1840 census and the positive good theory. In June
1845, Garrison’s printing office published The Narrative of the Life of Fred-
erick Douglass, an American Slave. In five months, 4,500 copies were sold,
and in the next five years, 30,000. The gripping best seller garnered
Douglass international prestige and forced thousands of readers to
come to grips with the brutality of slavery and the human desire of
Black people to be free. No other piece of antislavery literature had
such a profound effect. Douglass’s Narrative opened the door to a series
of slave narratives. For anyone who had the courage to look, they
showed the absolute falsity of the notion that enslavement was good
for Black people.
William Lloyd Garrison penned the preface to Douglass’s 1845
Narrative. Enslavement had “degraded” Black people “in the scale of
184 tamped from the Beginning
humanity,” Garrison claimed. “Nothing has been left undone to cripple
their intellects, darken their minds, debase their moral nature, obliterate
all traces of their relationship to mankind.” Though starting at different
places and taking different conceptual routes, Garrison kept arriving in
the same racist place as his enslaving enemies—subhuman Black infe-
riority. But if you let Garrison tell it in Douglass’s preface, antislavery
had “wholly confounded complexional differences.” Garrison chose not
to highlight the chilling physical battle with a slave-breaker that thrust
Douglass on his freedom course. Garrison enjoyed presenting two
types of Black people: degraded or excelling. He hoped the narrative
elicited White “sympathy” and “untiring” efforts “to break every yoke.”
The narrative did do that, and the many slave narratives that followed it
attracted White antislavery sympathy, too, especially in New England
and Old England. But these narratives did not attract nearly as much
White antiracist sympathy. After all, Garrison had packaged the book
in his assimilationist idea of the enslaved or free African as actually sub-
par, someone “capable of high attainments as an intellectual and moral
being—needing nothing but a comparatively small amount of cultiva-
tion to make him an ornament to society and a blessing to his race.”15
Garrison’s own preface—though powerfully persuasive, as his
readers expected—was a compellingly racist counterweight to Dou-
glass’s Narrative. Another compelling counterweight was Alabama
surgeon Josiah Nott’s Two Lectures on the Natural History of the Caucasian
and Negro Races in 1845. He had moved from racist biracial theory to
polygenesis, once again using the faulty census data as evidence. As a
separate species, “nature has endowed” Black people “with an inferior
organization, and all the powers of earth cannot elevate them above
their destiny.” Nott’s polygenesis had become “not only the science of
the age,” declared one observer, but also “an America science.” Popular
northern children’s books were speaking of the “capacity of the cra-
nium.” Best-selling New England author Samuel Goodrich wrote, in
The World and Its Inhabitants, that “Ethiopians” ranked “decidedly lowest
in the intellectual scale.”16
Douglass’s Narrative had to contend with the rapidly changing news
media as well. In early 1846, the newly formed Associated Press used
m ruted or Civilized 185

the newly invented telegraph to become the nation’s principal filter
and supplier of news. The rapid speed of transmission and monopoly
pricing encouraged shorter and simpler stories that told and did not
explain—that sensationalized and did not nuance, that recycled and
did not trash stereotypes or the status quo. News dispatches reinforc-
ing racist ideas met these demands. In January 1846, New Orleans res-
ident James D. B. De Bow met the demand for a powerful homegrown
southern voice, launching De Bow’s Review. It struggled early on, but by
the 1850s it had become the preeminent page of southern thought—
the proslavery, segregationist counterpoint to the antislavery, assimila-
tionist The Liberator.17
Regular contributors drove the expansion of De Bow’s Review, writ-
ers like Louisiana physician Samuel A. Cartwright, a former student of
Benjamin Rush. Cartwright wrote about healthy Black captives labor-
ing productively and loving enslavement. Whenever they resisted on
the plantation, Cartwright wrote in 1851, they were suffering from
what he called dysesthesia. “Nearly all” free Blacks were suffering from
this disease, because they did not have “some white person” to “take
care of them.” When enslaved Blacks ran away, they were suffering
from insanity, from what he called drapetomania. “They have only to
be . . . treated like children,” Cartwright told slaveholders, “to prevent
and cure them” of this insane desire to run away.18
Southern medical experiments found an airing in De Bow’s Review.
Researchers routinely used Black subjects. In 1845, Alabama’s J. Mar-
ion Sims horrifically started experimenting on the vaginas of eleven
enslaved women for a procedure to heal a complication of childbirth
called vesicovaginal fistula. The procedures were “not painful enough
to justify the trouble” of anesthesia, he said. It was a racist idea to
justify his cruelty, not something Sims truly knew from his experi-
ments. “Lucy’s agony was extreme,” Sims later noted in his memoir.
After a marathon of surgeries into the early 1850s—one woman,
Anarcha, suffered under his knife thirty times—Sims perfected the
procedure for curing the fistula. Anesthesia in hand, Sims started
healing White victims, moved to New York, built the first woman’s
hospital, and fathered American gynecology. A massive bronze and
186 tamped from the Beginning
granite monument dedicated to him—the first US statue depicting a
physician—now sits at Fifth Avenue and 103rd Street, across from the
Academy of Medicine.19

VULNERABLE NOW TO recapture by his former master as a publicly

known runaway, Frederick Douglass embarked in 1845 on an extended
lecture tour in Great Britain. John O’Sullivan, editor of the Democratic
Review, was irate that the “black vagabond Douglass” was spending “his
time in England propagating his filthy lies against the United States.”
Douglass sent a crushing reply. Like other followers of national politics
in America, Douglass probably knew O’Sullivan as a rabid fan of the
annexation of Texas (and all points west). Texas had been admitted
as a slave state on December 29, 1845. Expansionists—and especially
slavery’s expansionists—were clamoring for more: for California, for
New Mexico, for Oregon. As the first copies of the Narrative went out,
O’Sullivan wrote of White Americans’ “manifest destiny . . . to possess
the whole of the continent which Providence has given us.”20
In May 1846, President James K. Polk ordered troops over the dis-
puted Texas boundary. When Mexican troops defended themselves,
Polk painted Mexicans as the aggressors and publicized his war cause.
The ploy worked. The fight against Mexico helped rally North and
South alike to the cause of national expansion. But the question of
whether the expansion of the nation would mean an expansion of slav-
ery divided northerners and southerners. In August 1846, Democratic
representative David Wilmot of Pennsylvania stapled onto an appro-
priations bill a clause barring slavery in any territory Polk obtained
from the Mexican-American War. Wilmot represented the newest
political force in the United States: the antislavery, anti-Black Free-Soil
movement. What Polk called “foolish,” what historians call the Wilmot
Proviso, what Wilmot called the “white man’s proviso,” never passed.21
Over the years, William Lloyd Garrison and John C. Calhoun had
done their best to polarize the United States into rival camps: those
favoring immediate emancipation versus those insisting on permanent
slavery. The colonizationists’ middle ground of gradual emancipation
m ruted or Civilized 187

had capsized by the late 1830s. In 1846, the new Free Soilers rebuilt
that middle ground, primarily, but not exclusively, in the North.
When Richmond’s Tredegar Iron Works placed enslaved Blacks in
skilled positions to cut labor costs, White workers protested. In the
only protracted urban industrial strike in the pre–Civil War South,
they demanded pay raises and the removal of “the negroes” from
skilled work. If the striking ironworkers thought enslavers really cared
more about racism than profit, or that they would not abandon, out
of self-interest, their promotions of a unified White masculinity, then
they were in for a long and tortured lesson about power and profit and
propaganda. Richmond elites banded together. They viewed the anti-
Black strikers as being equivalent to abolitionists because they were
trying to prevent them “from making use of slave labor,” as the local
newspaper cried. In the end, the White strikers were fired.22

THE “SLAVE POWER” had declined in the past ten years, leading to a
“gradual abatement of the prejudice which we have been deploring,”
William Lloyd Garrison wrote in The Liberator in the summer of 1847.
But it remained a “disgusting fact, that they who cannot tolerate the
company or presence of educated and refined colored men, are quite
willing to be surrounded by ignorant and imbruted slaves, and never
think of objecting to the closest contact with them, on account of
their complexion! The more of such the better!” Though Garrison
was constrained by the bigoted idea of “ignorant and imbruted slaves,”
and was completely wrong that the western-marching slave power
had declined, he had a point. “It is only as they are free, educated,
enlightened, that they become a nuisance,” he wrote. He realized why
uplift suasion was unworkable, but nothing would shake his faith in the
When General Zachary Taylor began his tenure as the twelfth US
president in 1849, Free Soilers were demanding slavery’s restriction;
abolitionists were demanding the closure of the slave market in Wash-
ington, DC; and enslavers were demanding the expansion of slavery
and a stricter fugitive slave law to derail the Underground Railroad
188 tamped from the Beginning
and its courageous conductors, such as Harriet “Moses” Tubman.
Henry Clay, the old architect of the Missouri Compromise of 1820,
came out of the gloom of his failed presidential runs to engineer a
“reunion of the Union.” In January 1850, he proposed satisfying enslav-
ers by denying Congress jurisdiction over the domestic slave trade
and instituting a stronger Fugitive Slave Act. To satisfy antislavery or
Free Soil northerners, slave trading would be banned in the nation’s
capital, and California would be admitted to the Union as a free state.
Admitting California as a free state gave the balance of power to the
North. And with that power, the North could eradicate slavery. Cal-
houn and teeming numbers of southerners balked at submitting, or
even at compromising for a second. Calhoun fumed, and he mustered
the forces of secession.24
In March 1850, a horde of northern scientists trotted onto Cal-
houn’s turf to attend the third meeting of the American Association
for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Charleston. Samuel Mor-
ton, Josiah C. Nott, and Harvard polygenesist Louis Agassiz were
some of the association’s first members. Charleston prided itself on its
nationally lauded scientists, its natural history museum, and a medical
school that boasted plenty of available cadavers and “interesting cases.”
Weeks before the conference, Charleston’s own John Bachman, the
undisputed king of southern Lutherans, issued The Doctrine of the Unity
of the Human Race and an article in the highly respectable Charleston Med-
ical Journal. Noah’s son Shem was the “parent of the Caucasian race—
the progenitor of  .  .  . our Savior.” Ham was the parent of Africans,
whose “whole history” displayed an inability to self-govern. Bachman’s
monogenesis made a controversial splash at the meeting. But northern
and southern minds were made up for polygenesis in 1850.25
Louis Agassiz and Josiah Nott came and gave their papers on
polygenesis on March 15, 1850. Philadelphian Peter A. Browne, who
helped found the science-oriented Franklin Institute in honor of Ben-
jamin Franklin, presented his comparative study of human hair. Not
far from the world’s largest collections of skulls, Browne showed off
the world’s largest collection of hair, a collection he studied to pen
m ruted or Civilized 189

The Classification of Mankind, By the Hair and Wool of Their Heads in 1850.
Since Whites had “hair” and Blacks “wool,” Browne had “no hesitancy
in pronouncing that they “belong[ed] to two distinct species.” As for the hair
properties, Browne declared that “the hair of the white man is more
perfect than that of the negro.” According to Browne’s study, in which
he deemed Blacks a separate and inferior animal-like species, straight
hair was “good hair” and the “matted” hair of African people was bad.
But he was hardly saying something new. So many Black people, let
alone White people, had consumed this assimilationist idea that in
1859 an Anglo-African Magazine writer complained of Black parents
teaching their children “that he or she is pretty, just in proportion as
the features approximate to the Anglo-Saxon standard.” Black parents
must, the writer pleaded, stop characterizing straight hair as “good
hair” or Anglo-Saxon features as “good features.”26
Proud of its scientists, the city of Charleston picked up the tab
for the AAAS meeting and the publication of the proceedings. Entire
families in all of their gentility attended the sessions. The meeting
diverted them from rapid-fire telegraphic news reports on the frenzied
debate over the Compromise of 1850. The AAAS conference in the
home of proslavery thought demonstrated the crossroads of American
science and politics. As enslavers angrily followed northern political
developments, Charleston’s scientists eagerly followed northern sci-
entific developments, especially the development of polygenesis as the
mainstream of racial science.
Days after the AAAS conference ended in Charleston, South
Carolina’s “town bell” toiled “with sad news.” After a long battle with
tuberculosis, John C. Calhoun died on March 31, 1850. The hard-lined
anti-secessionist President Taylor died months later. Millard Fillmore,
an intuitive compromiser, took the presidential office in the aftershock
of the deaths of these two rigid giants. By September, Henry Clay’s
Compromise of 1850 had passed. “There is . . . peace,” Clay happily
announced. “I believe it is permanent.”27
The compromise’s signature measure, the Fugitive Slave Act,
handed enslavers octopus powers, allowing their tentacles to extend to
190 tamped from the Beginning
the North. The Act criminalized abettors of fugitives, provided north-
erners incentives to capture them, and denied captured Blacks a jury
trial, opening the door to mass kidnappings. To William Lloyd Garri-
son, the act was “so coldblooded, so inhuman and so atrocious, that
Satan himself would blush to claim paternity to it.”28

THERE WAS NO customary public outlet for a Maine woman’s rage against
the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. This daughter of a famous clergyman,
who was also the wife of a famous professor, knew men made the laws,
and she knew men reacted publicly to laws. But Harriet Beecher Stowe
was not a man, so her choices were limited. She was not the only
woman who was frustrated. As Stowe’s biographer explained, “The
political impotence Stowe felt in the face of unjust laws was building
up like water behind a dam for many middle-class women.”1
The first major collective strike against the dam had come two
years earlier at the first women’s rights convention, held in Seneca
Falls, New York, on July 19 and 20, 1848. Local Quaker women orga-
nized the convention alongside Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who penned
the meeting’s Declaration of Sentiments. The declaration pleaded for
gender equality and women’s suffrage, desires considered as radical as
racial equality and immediate emancipation. Many of the early White
women suffragists had spent years in the trenches of abolitionism,
oftentimes recognizing the interlocking nature of American racism
and sexism.
The Seneca Falls Convention set off a series of local women’s
rights conventions over the next few years, especially along the north-
ern abolitionist belt from New England to upstate New York and to
the state where Harriet Beecher Stowe had lived before moving to
Maine: Ohio. Suffragist and abolitionist Frances Dana Gage, one of
the first Americans to call for voting rights for all citizens regardless

192 tamped from the Beginning
of gender or race, helped organize women’s rights conferences across
Ohio during the early 1850s.
Gage’s most memorable conference took place at a church in
Akron, Ohio, in 1851. But she was not the only celebrity there. A tall,
thin, fifty-something-year-old lady adorned by a gray dress, white tur-
ban, and sunbonnet walked into the church “with the air of a queen up
the aisle,” an observer recorded. As White women buzzed for her to
turn back around and leave, Sojourner Truth defiantly took her seat
and bowed her head in disgust. She may have thought back to all the
turmoil she had experienced, which she had described in The Narrative
of Sojourner Truth, printed by Garrison the year before.
On May 29, 1851, day two of the meeting, men came in full force
to berate the resolutions. The convention turned into a bitter argu-
ment over gender. Male ministers preached about superior male intel-
lect, the gender of Jesus, Eve’s sin, the feebleness of women, all to
counter the equal rights resolutions. The women were growing weary
when Sojourner Truth, who had kept her head bowed almost the
whole time, raised her head up. She lifted her body slowly and started
walking to the front. “Don’t let her speak!” some women shouted.
Before the audience now, she laid her eyes on the convention
organizer. Gage announced her and begged the audience for silence.
Quiet came in an instant as all the eyes on White faces became trans-
fixed on the single dark face. Truth straightened her back and raised
herself to her full height—all six feet. She towered over nearby men.
“Ain’t I a Woman? Look at me! Look at my arm!” Truth showed off her
bulging muscles. “Ain’t I a Woman? I can outwork, outeat, outlast any
man! Ain’t I a Woman!” Sojourner Truth had shut down and shut up
the male hecklers.
As she returned to her seat, Truth could not help but see the
“streaming eyes, and hearts beating with gratitude” from the women,
the muddled daze from the men. Truth imparted a double blow in
“Ain’t I a Woman”: an attack on the sexist ideas of the male disrupt-
ers, and an attack on the racist ideas of females trying to banish her.
“Ain’t I a Woman” in all of my strength and power and tenderness and
intelligence. “Ain’t I a Woman” in all of my dark skin. Never again
oul 193

would anyone enfold more seamlessly the dual challenge of antiracist
Harriet Beecher Stowe no doubt heard about Sojourner Truth’s
speech in Garrison’s The Liberator, or through correspondence with
Ohio suffragists and abolitionists. But the attention of this gifted
writer was not on the awakening suffrage movement. It was on the
outrages of the Fugitive Slave Act, which was sending fugitives and
free Blacks to the cotton fields. And Stowe learned about these out-
rages from letters that her younger sister, Isabella, was sending her
from Connecticut. The letters were often read aloud in the parlor for
Harriet’s seven children to hear. “Now Hattie,” Isabella wrote her big
sister in one such letter, “if I could use a pen as you can, I would write
something that would make this whole nation feel what an accursed
thing slavery is.” Harriet Beecher Stowe rose from her chair. “I will
write something,” she declared. “I will write if I live.”3
Titled Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Stowe’s “living dramatic reality” entered
bookstores on March 20, 1852. “The scenes of this story,” she opened
the novel’s preface, “lie among . . . an exotic race, whose . . . character”
was “so essentially unlike the hard and dominant Anglo-Saxon race.”
In Black people’s “lowly docility of heart, their aptitude to repose on a
superior mind and rest on a higher power, their childlike simplicity of
affection, and facility of forgiveness,” she wrote, “[i]n all these they will
exhibit the highest form of the peculiarly Christian life.” Only enslave-
ment was holding them back.4
In one novel, Stowe ingeniously achieved what Garrison had been
trying to do for roughly two decades in article after article in The Lib-
erator. For the cosmic shift to antislavery, Stowe did not ask Americans
to change their deep-seated beliefs. She asked only for them to alter
the implications, the meaning of their deep-seated beliefs. Stowe met
Americans where they were: in the concreteness of racist ideas. She
accepted the nationally accepted premise of the enslaver. Naturally
docile and intellectually inferior Black people were disposed to their
enslavement to White people—and, Stowe crucially tacked on—to
God. Stowe inverted Cotton Mather and all those preachers after
him who had spent years trying to convince planters that Christianity
194 tamped from the Beginning
made Blacks better slaves. She claimed that since docile Blacks made
the best slaves, they made the best Christians. Since domineering
Whites made the worst slaves, they made the worst Christians. Stowe
offered Christian salvation to White America through antislavery. In
order to become better Christians, White people must constrain their
domineering temperament and end the evil outgrowth of that temper-
ament: slavery.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin was a powerfully effective tool for Stowe’s racist
abolitionism because it was such an awesome page turner. An indebted
Kentucky slaveholder plans to sell the enslaved religious leader Uncle
Tom and the young son of Eliza Harris. Eliza grabs her son, flees, and
reunites in northern freedom with her fugitive husband, George Har-
ris. Tom stays and is sold South. Heading downriver on a boat, Tom
saves a pious little White girl, Eva, who had fallen in the river. Grate-
ful, her father, Augustine St. Clare, buys Tom.
The relations of Tom and Eva sit at the novel’s thematic center.
Stowe created the double-character—the naturally Christian Tom/
Eva—to highlight her conception of Blacks being more feminine,
“docile, child-like and affectionate,” which allows Christianity to find a
“more congenial atmosphere” in Black bodies. In a major proselytizing
battle, Stowe pits the soulful Christian Black slave, Tom, against the mind-
ful un-Christian White master, St. Clare. “Thou hast hid from the wise
and prudent, and revealed unto babes,” Tom says in biblical style. Blacks
were spiritually superior because of their intellectual inferiority, Stowe
maintained. This spiritual superiority allowed Blacks to have soul.5
Stowe’s popularization of spiritually gifted Black people quickly
became a central pillar of African American identity as Black read-
ers consumed the book and passed on its racist ideas. Racist Whites,
believing themselves to be void of soul, made it their personal mis-
sion to find soul through Black people. Racist Blacks, believing them-
selves to be void of intellect, made it their personal mission to find
intellect through White people. Black Americans almost immediately
made Uncle Tom the identifier of Black submissiveness, while accept-
ing Stowe’s underlying racist idea that made Uncle Tom so submissive:
Blacks were especially spiritual; they, especially, had soul.
oul 195

And these Black people were inferior to biracial people, in Stowe’s
reproduction of biracial racism. The only four adult characters who
run away are the novel’s four biracial captives, the “tragic mulattos.”
Though appearing and acting White, they are tragically imprisoned
by Blackness. And yet in their intellectual and aesthetic superiority, in
their active resistance to enslavement, Stowe distinguishes the mulat-
tos from the “full black.”6
In the novel’s “concluding remarks,” Stowe called for northerners
to teach Blacks until they reached “moral and intellectual maturity,
and then assist them in their passage” to Africa, “where they may put
into practice the lessons they have learned in America.” Her call was
a godsend to the vanishing American Colonization Society. Uncle
Tom’s Cabin and Blacks fed up with the United States revitalized the
colonization movement in the 1850s. President Fillmore intended to
endorse colonization in his 1852 Message to Congress. “There can be
no well-grounded hope,” he was going to say, “for the improvement of
either [Blacks’] moral or social condition, until they are removed from
a humiliating sense of inferiority in the presence of a superior race.”
Although they were omitted in the speech itself, these remarks found
their way into newspapers.7
Garrison revered Uncle Tom in his book review of March 26,
1852. But he was virtually alone in his antiracist questioning of Stowe’s
religious bigotry. “Is there one law of submission and non-resistance
for the black man, and another law of rebellion and conflict for the
white man? Are there two Christs?” Garrison also regretted seeing
the “sentiments respecting African colonization.” His antiracist reli-
giosity hardly made waves like his critique of Stowe’s endorsement of
Frederick Douglass was also wary of Stowe’s embrace of coloni-
zation, though he did not criticize her portrait of the “soulful” Uncle
Tom. He sent off an assimilationist, anti-Indian letter to Stowe explain-
ing why Blacks would never accept colonization. “This black man
(unlike the Indian) loves civilization,” Douglass wrote. “He does not
make very great progress in civilization himself, but he likes to be in
the midst of it.” In not totally rebuking Stowe and her novel, the most
196 tamped from the Beginning
influential Black man in America hardly slowed the consumption of the
novel’s racist ideas.9
No one came closer to totally trashing Uncle Tom’s Cabin than a
Black writer and physician named Martin R. Delany. He had become
disillusioned about abolitionism because its proponents had not come
to his aid when he had been ejected from Harvard Medical School
in 1850. He had been accepted, along with two other Black students,
but when they arrived, White students had called for their dismissal.
In 1852, Delany released his largely antiracist The Condition, Elevation,
Emigration, and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States, Politically
Considered. Antislavery societies, Delany charged, “presumed to think
for, dictate to, and know better what suited colored people, than they
know for themselves.” Black people had two choices: continued degra-
dation in the United States, or establishment of a prosperous commu-
nity elsewhere—meaning colonization on Black terms. Even on Black
terms, Black people still mostly opposed colonization.10
While splitting on colonization in the 1850s, Black male activ-
ists seemingly united in their distaste of Uncle Tom for disseminat-
ing the stereotype of the weak Black male. For some time, racist Black
patriarchs had been measuring their masculinity off of the perceived
controlling masculinity of White men, and they found Black mascu-
linity to be lacking. They demanded control of Black women, families,
and communities to redeem their masculinity from the “weak Black
male” stereotype. As antislavery Black patriarchs petitioned in 1773,
in Massachusetts, “How can the wife submit themselves to [their]
husbands in all things” if Blacks remained enslaved? And then, at the
male-dominated National Convention of Colored Citizens in Syra-
cuse in 1864, they complained, “We have been denied ownership of
our bodies, our wives, home, children and the products of our own
labor.” These Black men resolved to “vindicate our manhood,” as if
it needed any vindication. It could not have been a coincidence that
while women like Sojourner Truth were asserting their right to gen-
der equity in the 1850s and early 1860s, Black (and White) men were
asserting their right to rule women.11
oul 197

The sexist opposition seemed wrapped up in the proslavery oppo-
sition, especially since a woman had penned Uncle Tom’s Cabin. South-
erners hailed the publication of Caroline Lee Hentz’s The Planter’s
Northern Bride, and William Gilmore Simms’s The Sword and the Distaff,
the most prominent of the more than twenty plantation-school novels
published in the reactionary aftermath of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. In these
books, professorial planters, and their pure and upright wives, civilized
their animal-like or childlike contented captives on their family farms.
These plantation novelists could write up some fiction. Although Uncle
Tom’s Cabin may not have spread among southerners as widely as the
plantation-school books, a large number of southerners did get their
hands on it. “Mrs. Stowe says that the . . . chief wrong in the catalogue
of sins against the negro, is the prejudice of caste, the antipathy of
race, the feeling we crush into their souls that they are ‘nothing but
niggers,’” wrote a Georgia “lady” in De Bow’s Review. But Mrs. Stowe
was forgetting, she said, “the fact that their Maker created them ‘noth-
ing but niggers.’”12

NEITHER THE FREE-SOIL upsurge nor the antislavery upsurge from the
Fugitive Slave Act and Uncle Tom’s Cabin could overcome the political
parties’ overwhelming propaganda or the sectional and slavery ten-
sions during the presidential election of 1852. New Hampshire’s flam-
boyant Mexican-American War general, Franklin Pierce, ready to turn
the nation’s attention from slavery toward national expansion, won in
a rout for the Democrats. “The question is at rest,” Pierce proclaimed
in his First Inaugural Address in 1853. Abolitionists will never rest until
“the eternal overthrow” of slavery, the forty-seven-year-old Garrison
shot back.13
In 1853, the American Anti-Slavery Society refused to admit
defeat in the wake of Franklin Pierce’s victory. Members celebrated
their twentieth anniversary by celebrating Garrison, in order to put
him before as many eyes as possible. It mirrored the international
effort in 1853 to put the recently deceased University of Pennsylvania
198 tamped from the Beginning
polygenesist Samuel Morton before the public and hail him as the
exemplary pioneer. Josiah C. Nott and George Gliddon published, on
April 1, 1853, the monumental Types of Mankind, eight-hundred pages
of polygenesis, dedicated “to the Memory of Morton.” For visual learn-
ers, they inserted an illustration of two columns of faces adjoining
skulls: the “Greek” at the top, the “ape” at the bottom, the “Negro” in
the middle. The debate over “the primitive origin of the races” was the
“last grand battle between science and dogmatism.” Who would win?
“Science must again, and finally, triumph!”14
Types of Mankind appeared during a crowded 1853, a critical year
for segregationist ideas making the case for permanent Black inferior-
ity while assimilationist abolitionists advanced. Democrats welcomed
the publication of New York editor John H. Van Evrie’s Negroes and
Negro Slavery. Van Evrie ran at the front of a stampede of northern pro-
slavery, pro-White pamphleteers chasing down the abolitionist move-
ment in the 1850s. “God has made the negro an inferior being not in
most cases, but in all cases,” Van Evrie declared. “The same almighty
creator made all white men equal.” Over in France in 1853, aristocratic
royalist Arthur de Gobineau released his four-volume Essai sur l’inégalité
des races humaines (An Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races). Gobin-
eau’s demand for France’s return to aristocracy included an analysis of
the “colossal truth” of racial hierarchy, of polygenesis. The intelligent
White lovers of liberty were at the top; the yellow race was the “mid-
dle class”; and at the bottom were the greedy, sexual Black people.
Blacks’ abnormal physical traits had developed to compensate for their
stupidity, Gobineau wrote. Within the White species, the Aryan was
supreme—and was the supreme maker of all great civilizations in his-
tory the world over. Germans embraced Gobineau, especially since
he said Aryans were “la race germanique.” In 1856, Josiah C. Nott
arranged for the translation of Gobineau’s book into English.15
Though the book was expensive and had a lot of competition for
readers’ attention, Types of Mankind sold out almost immediately. It was
“handsomely welcomed” in Europe, and well regarded as an excellent
treatment of the “pre-eminently  .  .  . American science” of polygen-
esis, as the New York Herald wrote. The reviewer for Putnam’s Monthly
oul 199

accepted polygenesis, too, explaining that “the nations are of one
blood, therefore, not genealogically, but spiritually.” Cotton Mather’s
old case of spiritual equality (and bodily inequality) to square slavery
and Christianity was now squaring polygenesis and Christianity.
In Putnam’s competitor, Harper’s Magazine, Herman Melville, who
had just authored Moby-Dick, issued “The ‘Gees.” The antiracist satire
relentlessly mocked the contradictions of polygenesis. The fictional
‘Gees are a people “ranking pretty high in incivility, but rather low in
stature and morals.” They have “a great appetite, but little imagination;
a large eyeball, but small insight. Biscuit he crunches, but sentiment he
eschews.” Meanwhile, the character of Queequeg in Moby-Dick gave
Melville a chance to challenge racial stereotypes.16
Types of Mankind was so popular and so influential that it compelled
the first major response to polygenesis by an African American. The
Reverend Martin B. Anderson, the first president of the University of
Rochester, loaned the book to his friend Frederick Douglass. Ander-
son also handed over works by Nott, Gliddon, and Morton. Douglass
used his first formal address before a college audience—Cleveland’s
Case Western Reserve on July 12, 1854—to mount a spirited rebuttal.
The address was published that year in Rochester, and Douglass recy-
cled the message in other speeches for years.17
“Before the Notts, the Gliddens, the Agassiz, the Mortons made
their profound discoveries,” speaking “in the name of science,” Dou-
glass said, humans believed in monogenesis. Nearly all advocates of
polygenesis “hold it be the privilege of the Anglo-Saxon to enslave and
oppress the African,” he went on. “When men oppress their fellow-
men, the oppressor ever finds, in the character of the oppressed, a full
justification for his oppression.” Douglass, amazingly, summed up the
history of racist ideas in a single sentence.
After effortlessly proving the ancient Egyptians were Black, label-
ing Types of Mankind the most “compendious and barefaced” attempt
ever to “brand the negro with natural inferiority,” and rooting all
human differences in environment, Douglass turns from his antirac-
ist best to his racist worst. He references the work of biracial physi-
cian James McCune Smith of New York, who had the single greatest
200 tamped from the Beginning
influence on Douglass’s life—more than Garrison. At Scotland’s Uni-
versity of Glasgow in the 1830s, Smith had earned bachelor’s, master’s,
and medical degrees—the first American of African descent to do so.
The hair of Black people was “growing more and more straight,” Smith
once rejoiced. “These influences—climate and culture—will ulti-
mately produce a uniform” American of White skin and straight hair.18
Leaning on Smith’s climate theory and cultural racism, Douglass
asked the students in Cleveland, “Need we go behind the vicissitudes
of barbarism for an explanation of the gaunt, wiry, apelike appearance
of some of the genuine Negroes? Need we look higher than a vertical
sun, or lower than the damp, black soil [of West Africa]  .  .  . for an
explanation of the Negro’s color?” While Douglass beat the vicissi-
tudes of barbarism into Africa, he ascribed “the very heart of the civi-
lized world” into England. He had emerged as the most famous Black
male abolitionist and assimilationist in the United States.19
The cutting up of the Bible, “root and branch,” in Gobineau’s Types
of Mankind did not sit well with the most famous White male aboli-
tionist and assimilationist either. William Lloyd Garrison reviewed the
segregationist book on October 13, 1854, in his first bout, too, with
polygenesis. Garrison took aim, in particular, at Josiah C. Nott, who
had said that he “looked in vain, during twenty years for a solitary
exception” to Jefferson’s verdict of never finding “a black had uttered a
thought above the level of plain narrative.” This is “something extraor-
dinary,” said Garrison sardonically, “that Jefferson should beget so
many stupid children.”20

THOUGH THEY WERE firmly united against Types of Mankind, against seg-
regationist ideas, and against slavery, Douglass and Garrison eventu-
ally grew apart. When Frederick Douglass attacked the paternalism
of White abolitionists and recognized the need for Black organizing,
interracial organizers lashed back, Garrison included. By the summer
and fall of 1853, invective filled the pages of Frederick Douglass’ Paper
and The Liberator. Garrison issued his most damning comment in The
Liberator on September 23, 1853: “The sufferers from American slavery
oul 201

and prejudice, as a class,” were unable “to perceive” the demands of the
movement “or to understand the philosophy of its operations.”21
All along, mutual friends tried to stop the quarrel. Before the year
expired, Harriet Beecher Stowe stepped between Douglass and Gar-
rison. She achieved what others could not. After all, the best-selling
Uncle Tom’s Cabin had catapulted Stowe to the pinnacle of the aboli-
tionist movement overlooking both Douglass and Garrison. Her novel
was drawing more northerners to the movement than the writings
and speeches of Douglass and Garrison—especially, and crucially, the
women who were firing the nation up for their rights. Stowe’s letters to
both men held them back. The bitter warfare tailed off and stopped.
They each forgave, but did not forget. They each turned their atten-
tion to the controversy that undermined the “finality” platform of the
Pierce administration in 1854.22

The Impending Crisis

US SENATOR STEPHEN A. DOUGLAS of Illinois desired to give statehood
to the territories of Nebraska and Kansas in order to build through
these states a transcontinental railroad. Douglas and his benefactors
envisioned this railroad transforming the flourishing Mississippi Val-
ley into the nation’s epicenter. To secure crucial southern support, the
Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854 left the slavery question to be settled by
the settlers, thus repealing the Missouri Compromise.
Stephen Douglas knew the bill would produce “a hell of a storm,”
but his forecast underestimated northern ire. Slavery seemed offi-
cially on the national march, and the days of Free Soil seemed num-
bered. And fears of this future caused northerners to speak out
against the march of slavery, including a politically ambitious Illinois
lawyer who had served one term, from 1847 to 1849, as an Illinois
congressman. Abraham Lincoln took an antislavery stand, reviving
his dead political career as he vied for Illinois’s second US Senate seat
across from Stephen Douglas in 1854. He scolded the “monstrous
injustice” in a long speech in Peoria, Illinois, on October 16, 1854.
But he did not know what to do “as to the existing institution,” add-
ing, “My first impulse would be to free all the slaves, and send them
to Liberia.” But that was impossible. “What then? Free them all, and
keep them among us as underlings? . . . Free them, and make them
politically and socially, our equals? My own feeling will not admit
this; and if mine would, we well know that those of the great mass of
white people will not.”1

he mpending Crisis 203

Abraham Lincoln was a political disciple of Henry Clay, the Great
Compromiser, who had just engineered compromises of 1820 and
1850. One of the great causes of Clay’s political life was coloniza-
tion. He spoke at the founding meeting of the American Colonization
Society and presided over the organization from 1836 to 1849. When
Henry Clay died in 1852, he became the first American to lie in state
at the US Capitol. Not many abolitionists joined in the mourning. No
man was a greater enemy to Black people, William Lloyd Garrison
insisted. Lincoln called Clay “my ideal of a great man.”2
Abraham Lincoln gave Clay’s eulogy in the Illinois capitol in 1852,
and for the first time in his public life endorsed returning both free and
freed Blacks to their “long-lost fatherland” in Africa. Lincoln hailed
from Kentucky like Clay, and some of his relatives owned people.
His parents did not, showing an aversion to slavery. Lincoln did not
like the domestic slave trade, and yet he had no problem advocating
against Black voting rights early in his career as an Illinois state legis-
lator. In 1852, the forty-three-year-old had settled for practicing law,
believing his political career in the Whig Party had ended before he
resurfaced to run for a Senate seat in 1854.3

THE KANSAS-NEBRASKA ACT split open Abraham Lincoln’s Whig Party

along regional lines and killed Henry Clay’s baby. Two new parties
emerged in time for the 1856 presidential election: the Know-Nothings,
calling immigrants and Catholics the enemy, and the Republican Party,
calling the expanding “slave power” the enemy. Neither could outduel
the Democrats, who united in opposition to abolitionism. On March
4, 1857, Democrat James Buchanan took the presidential oath of office
as the fifteenth president of the United States. The “difference of opin-
ion” in Congress and in America over slavery’s expansion should and
would be “speedily and finally settled” by the US Supreme Court, he
announced. Buchanan had insider information of the Supreme Court’s
impending decision on the differences, but he feigned ignorance. “All
good citizens” should join him, Buchanan said, in “cheerfully” submit-
ting to the Court’s decision.4
204 tamped from the Beginning
All of two days later, on March 6, 1857, the Supreme Court sub-
mitted its decision, but not many antislavery northerners cheerfully
submitted. In Dred Scott v. Sandford, the Court rejected the freedom suit
of Dred Scott, who had been taken to free states and territories. Five
southerners (Democrat and Whig) and two northerners (both Dem-
ocrats) had ruled the Missouri Compromise unconstitutional, ques-
tioned the constitutionality of northern abolition, stripped Congress
of its power to regulate slavery in the territories, and stated that Black
people could not be citizens. An Ohio Republican and a New England
Whig had dissented.
Chief Justice Roger B. Taney issued the stingingly controversial
majority opinion. A steadfast Jacksonian Democrat from Maryland
who had emancipated his captives long ago, he had made a career out
of defending the property rights of slaveholders, his right to eman-
cipate, and his friends’ rights to enslave. About to turn eighty years
old, Taney refused to bury slavery (as it turned out, Taney died the
day Maryland abolished slavery in 1864). When he finished his fif-
ty-five-page majority opinion, Taney hoped that Blacks, Free Soilers,
and abolitionists would have no constitutional life to fortify their free-
dom fights against slaveholders. Since Black people had been excluded
from the American political community when the nation was founded,
the United States could not now extend them rights, Taney reasoned.
“They had for more than a century been regarded as beings of an infe-
rior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either
in social or political relations, and so far unfit that they had no rights
which the white man was bound to respect.”5
Although Taney was absolutely right about the founding fathers
regarding Blacks as inferior, he was absolutely wrong that Black men
had been excluded from the original political community. Dissenting
Justice Benjamin Curtis revealed that upon the nation’s founding, Black
men had possessed voting rights in at least five states—almost half
the Union—sinking Taney’s argument against Black citizenship rights.
But Curtis’s history lesson made no headway upon Taney, his other
colleagues on the Court, or the residents of the White House or the
US Capitol, who applauded the Dred Scott decision. They probably
he mpending Crisis 205

already knew the history. They seemed not to care about the crippling
effects of the Court’s racist decision. All they seemed to care about
was maintaining their nation’s enriching economic interests. And noth-
ing enriched northern investors and factory owners and southern
landowners and slaveholders in 1857 as much as the nation’s principal
export: cotton.6
Democratic senator Stephen Douglas rejoiced over the Taney
decision, speaking for enslavers and their northern defenders alike.
Abraham Lincoln, who was now campaigning for Douglas’s Senate
seat in 1858, opposed the decision, speaking for the Free Soilers and
abolitionists in the fledgling Republican Party. Abraham Lincoln and
Stephen Douglas agreed to a series of seven debates from late August
to mid-October 1858 in Illinois. Thousands showed up to watch them,
and millions read the transcripts. The candidates became household
names. The tall, slight, poorly dressed, and unassuming Lincoln qui-
etly arrived alone to the debates, ready to stand on the defensive. The
short, stocky, custom-suit-clad, and arrogant Douglas arrived with his
young wife, Adele, in a private railcar to the firing of cannons, ready to
go on the offensive. The visual and audio contrasts were tailor-made
for a technology that did not yet exist.
“If you desire negro citizenship,” said Douglas, “then support Mr.
Lincoln and the Black Republican party.” Douglass kept race baiting,
manipulating the racist ideas of voters to turn them off of Republicans.
In the decades before the Civil War, race baiting had become a crucial
campaign ploy, especially for the dominant Democratic Party. Doug-
las went on to say that America “was made by white men, for the ben-
efit of white men and their posterity forever,” warning that a Lincoln
presidency would lead to integrated communities. As the race baiting
from Douglas intensified, the stream of letters urging Lincoln to sep-
arate Republicans from racial equality intensified, too. By the fourth
debate in Charleston in central Illinois, Lincoln had had enough. “I
am not nor ever have been in favor of making [Black people] voters or
jurors,” or politicians or marriage partners, Lincoln insisted. “There is a
physical difference between the white and black races which I believe
will for ever forbid the two races living together on terms of social
206 tamped from the Beginning
and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot live, while they
do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior,
and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior
position assigned to the white race.”
Abraham Lincoln threw Stephen Douglas on the defensive. Doug-
las charged Lincoln with changing his views on race to fit the audience:
“jet black” in the northern abolitionist part of the state, the “color of a
decent mulatto” in the antislavery, anti-abolitionist center, and “almost
white” in proslavery southern Illinois. Douglas wanted to keep the dis-
cussion on race. Putting race behind him, Lincoln went on the offensive
in the last three debates and steered the discussion toward slavery. In
the final debate, in Alton, Illinois, the home of assassinated abolitionist
editor Elijah P. Lovejoy, Lincoln declared that a vote for Douglas was a
vote for expanding slavery, and a vote against “free white people” find-
ing homes and improving their lives by moving west.7
Illinois Democrats won control of both houses and reelected
Douglas in the 1858 midterm elections. Illinois Republicans learned
that being branded pro-Black was more politically crippling than being
branded proslavery. But in the rest of the North, Republicans did much
better. Abraham Lincoln, in Springfield, Illinois; William Lloyd Garri-
son one thousand miles away in Boston; and other watchers of Amer-
ican politics saw the same obvious results of the elections. In addition
to seizing power in the swing states of New York, Pennsylvania, and
Indiana, Republicans had won big in abolitionist country: small-town
New England, “the Yankee West,” and the northern counties along the
Great Lakes. They had differing vantage points, differing ideologies,
and differing personal and national ambitions, so it is not surprising
that Lincoln and Garrison responded differently to the same results.8
Garrison tamed his criticism of a major political party for the first
time in almost thirty years, recognizing that America’s antislavery
voters had flocked to the Republican fold. He envisioned its coalition
of “incongruous elements” breaking up after losing the 1860 election
and the genuinely antislavery politicians taking over. In the meantime,
it was his job—it was the job of the movement—to “distinguish the
shortcomings of the Republican platform from the promise of the
he mpending Crisis 207

Republican constituency,” that is, to persuade this constituency that
there could be no compromise with slavery, and no union with slave-
holders. Garrison’s biographer termed this new strategy “political sua-
sion.” Old friends committed to keeping the movement out of politics
admonished him, generating heated debates at abolitionist meetings in
the late 1850s.9
In contrast, Lincoln turned away from the Republicans’ anti-

slavery-expansion base and reached for the independents. Republicans
in swing states like Illinois started focusing on the much more popu-
lar rights of “free labor,” a topic inspired by the 1857 best seller The
Impending Crisis of the South by North Carolinian Hinton Rowan Helper.
Slavery needed to end because it was retarding southern economic
progress and the opportunities of non-slaveholding Whites, who were
oppressed by wealthy enslavers. Helper didn’t “believe in the unity of
races.” But he refused to accept the doctrine of polygenesis as a justifi-
cation to continue slavery. Emancipated Africans, he wrote, should be
sent to Africa.10
Horace Greeley, the nation’s most famous editor, promoted Help-
er’s book in the nation’s leading newspaper, the New York Tribune. Helper
and Greeley partnered in soliciting funds and Republican endorse-
ments to produce a small, more inexpensive Compendium version of The
Impending Crisis of the South to distribute during the upcoming election.
Widely endorsed and published in July 1859, the Compendium became
an instant best-seller in Republican circles, but an instant dartboard in
enslaving circles. Helper’s free White labor, antislavery message was
everything the Republicans—and Lincoln—were looking for: a way to
oppose slavery without being cast as pro-Black.11
Enslavers were furious about the implications of Helper’s book,
which practically called for a united front made up of Free Soilers,
abolitionists, and former slaves. That unholy alliance became a reality
in October 1859, when abolitionist John Brown and his nineteen-man
interracial battalion captured the federal armory at Harpers Ferry,
West Virginia, sixty miles northwest of Washington, DC. “General”
Harriet Tubman was unable to come as planned, probably because
she was suffering one of her recurring fevers. Brown could have used
208 tamped from the Beginning
her ingenuity. He selected an area of small-scale farms instead of mas-
sive gang-scale plantations, where he could have armed thousands and
plotted the next stage of his revolt. Marines led by Colonel Robert E.
Lee crushed the rebellion instead and apprehended Brown. Seventeen
people perished.
Although enslavers had fought off larger Black slave revolts
throughout the tumultuous 1850s, Brown’s revolt affected them deeply.
The growing breach in White unity unsettled them into delirium.
William Lloyd Garrison initially described the revolt as an “insane,”
though “well-intended,” attempt. But in the weeks after the conflict,
he joined with abolitionists in transforming John Brown in the eyes of
antislavery northerners from a madman to a “martyr.” Countless Amer-
icans came to admire his David-like courage to strike at the mighty
and hated Goliath-like slave power. The disdain for violent Black rev-
olutionaries lurked in the shadow of the praises for John Brown, how-
ever. Black slave rebels never became martyrs and remained madmen
and madwomen. Never before had the leader of a major slave uprising
been so praised. Not since Bacon’s Rebellion had the leader of a major
antislavery uprising been White.
Millions read John Brown’s final court statement. Brown presented
himself as a righteous Christian shepherd who was willing to follow
the Golden Rule—willing to lead the dependent sheep out of slavery.
On the day of his hanging, December 2, 1859, White and Black north-
erners mourned to the sounds of church bells for hours.12

ON FEBRUARY 2, 1860, Jefferson Davis, a senator from Mississippi, pre-

sented the southern platform of unlimited states’ rights and enslav-
ers rights to the US Senate. The South needed these resolutions to
be passed if they were going to remain in the Stephen Douglas–led
Democratic Party and in the Union. Davis could have easily added
that southerners believed the federal government should not use its
resources to assist Black people in any way. On April 12, 1860, Davis
objected to appropriating funds for educating Blacks in Washington,
DC. “This Government was not founded by negroes nor for negroes,”
he mpending Crisis 209

he said, but “by white men for white men.” The bill was based on the
false assertion of racial equality, he stated. The “inequality of the white
and black races” was “stamped from the beginning.”
Adam had driven away the first White criminal, his son Cain, who
was “no longer the fit associate of those who were created to exercise
dominion over the earth,” Davis lectured the senators. Cain had found
in the “land of Nod those to whom his crime had degraded him to an
equality.” Apparently, Blacks had lived in the Land of Nod among the
“living creatures” God had created before humans. Blacks were later
taken on Noah’s ark with other animals. Their overseer: Ham.13
On the lips of one of America’s most renowned politicians, it
looked as if polygenesis had finally become mainstream. In actuality,
the days of the notion of separately created human species were num-
bered. Another pernicious theory of the human species was about to
take hold, one that would be used by racist apologists for the next one
hundred years.
In August 1860, polygenesist Josiah C. Nott took some time away
from raising Alabama’s first medical school (now in Birmingham). He
skimmed through a five-hundred-page tome published the previous
November in England. It had a long title, On the Origin of Species by
Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle
for Life. Nott probably knew the author: the eminent, antislavery British
marine biologist Charles Darwin.
“The view which most naturalists entertain, and which I formerly
entertained—namely, that each species has been independently cre-
ated—is erroneous,” Darwin famously declared. “I am fully convinced
that species are not immutable.” Recent discoveries were showing, he
explained, that humans had originated much earlier than a few thou-
sand years ago. Darwin effectively declared war on biblical chronol-
ogy and the ruling conception of polygenesis, offering a new ruling
idea: natural selection. In the “recurring struggle for existence,” he
wrote, “all corporeal and mental endowments will tend to progress
towards perfection.”
Darwin did not explicitly claim that the White race had been natu-
rally selected to evolve toward perfection. He hardly spent any writing
210 tamped from the Beginning
time on humans in The Origin of Species. He had a grander purpose:
proving that all living things the world over were struggling, evolving,
spreading, and facing extinction or perfection. Darwin did, however,
open the door for bigots to use his theory by referring to “civilized”
states, the “savage races of man,” and “half-civilized man,” and calling the
natives of southern Africa and their descendants “the lowest savages.”14
Over the course of the 1860s, the Western reception of Darwin
transformed from opposition to skepticism to approval to hailing
praise. The sensitive, private, and sickly Darwin let his many friends
develop his ideas and engage his critics. The mind of English poly-
math Herbert Spencer became the ultimate womb for Darwin’s ideas,
his writings the amplifier of what came to be known as Social Darwin-
ism. In Principles of Biology in 1864, Spencer coined the iconic phrase
“survival of the fittest.” He religiously believed that human behavior
was inherited. Superior hereditary traits made the “dominant races”
better fit to survive than the “inferior races.” Spencer spent the rest of
his life calling for governments to get out of the way of the struggle
for existence. In his quest to limit government, Spencer ignored the
discriminators, probably knowing they were rigging the struggle for
existence. Longing for ideas to justify the nation’s growing inequities,
American elites firmly embraced Charles Darwin and fell head over
heels for Herbert Spencer.15
Charles Darwin’s scholarly circle grew immeasurably over the
1860s, encircling the entire Western world. The Origin of Species even
changed the life of Darwin’s cousin, Sir Francis Galton. The father
of modern statistics, Galton created the concepts of correlation and
regression toward the mean and blazed the trail for the use of ques-
tionnaires and surveys to collect data. In Hereditary Genius (1869), he
used his data to popularize the myth that parents passed on hereditary
traits like intelligence that environment could not alter. “The average
intellectual standard of the negro race is some two grades below our
own,” Galton wrote. He coined the phrase “nature versus nurture,”
claiming that nature was undefeated. Galton urged governments to
rid the world of all naturally unselected peoples, or at least stop them
from reproducing, a social policy he called “eugenics” in 1883.16
he mpending Crisis 211

Darwin did not stop his adherents from applying the principles
of natural selection to humans. However, the largely unknown co-

discoverer of natural selection did. By 1869, British naturalist Alfred
Russel Wallace professed that human spirituality and the equal capac-
ity of healthy brains took humans outside of natural selection. Then
again, as Wallace made a name for himself as the most egalitarian
English scientist of his generation, he still professed European culture
to be superior to any other.17
Darwin attempted to prove once and for all that natural selection
applied to humans in Descent of Man, released in 1871. In the book, he
was all over the place as he related race and intelligence. He spoke
about the “mental similarity between the most distinct races of man,”
and then claimed that “the American aborigines, Negroes and Europe-
ans differ as much from each other in mind as any three races that can
be named.” He noted that he was “incessantly struck” by some South
Americans and “a full-blood negro” acquaintance who impressed him
with “how similar their minds were to ours.” On racial evolution, he
said that the “civilized races” had “extended, and are now everywhere
extending, their range, so as to take the place of the lower races.” A
future evolutionary break would occur between “civilized” Whites and
“some ape”—unlike like the present break “between the negro or Aus-
tralian and the gorilla.” Both assimilationists and segregationists hailed
Descent of Man. Assimilationists read Darwin as saying Blacks could one
day evolve into White civilization; segregationists read him as saying
Blacks were bound for extinction.18

IN APRIL 1860, De Bow’s Review

printed the results of a “search [for] a moral,
happy, and voluntarily industrious community of free negroes.” The
reporter apparently surveyed Jamaica, Haiti, Trinidad, British Guiana,
Antilles, Martinique, Guadeloupe, St. Thomas, St. John, Antigua, Peru,
Mexico, Panama, Mauritius, England, Canada, Sierra Leone, and Liberia,
but found that “no such community exists upon the face of the earth.”19
The proslavery magazine’s lead story that April 1860 spoke of
“the Secession of the south and a new confederation necessary to the
212 tamped from the Beginning
preservation of constitutional liberty and social morality.” Not yet
ready to secede from the Union, southern Democrats seceded from
the Democratic Party and fielded Vice President John C. Breckinridge
of Kentucky as their presidential nominee for the 1860 election.20
Northern and southern Democrats came to their nominating con-
ventions unwilling to moderate their views for the sake of victory, but
moderation for victory headlined the Republican convention. Dele-
gates came ready to erase the “Black Republican” label once and for all.
Abraham Lincoln helped them do just that. His humble life appealed
to working-class voters, his principled stance against slavery appealed
to radicals, and his principled stance against Black voting and racial
equality appealed to anti-Black Free Soilers. With their man in place,
Republicans passed a platform that pledged not to challenge southern
slavery. The pavement of the platform, what the Republicans intended
to run on, was the declaration of freedom as “the normal condition of
all the territories.”
Praising Lincoln as “a man of will and nerve,” Frederick Douglass
refused to vote for him, knowing his horrible Illinois record on Black
rights. William Lloyd Garrison ignored the promoters playing up Lin-
coln’s antislavery credentials. Lincoln would “do nothing to offend the
South,” Garrison scoffed.21
Days before the November 1860 election, 30,000 Democrats pro-
cessed through New York City carrying torches, placards, and ban-
ners that blared: “No Negro Equality” and “Free Love, Free Niggers,
and Free Women.” But the Republicans managed to convince enough
northerners that the party stood against extending slavery and Black
civil rights. Garrison spoke for many when he hoped that the election
of Abraham Lincoln as the sixteenth president of the United States
signified a “much deeper sentiment” in the North, which “in the pro-
cess of time must ripen into more decisive action” against slavery. It
was exactly what enslavers feared.22
In an open letter to a southerner on December 15, 1860, Lincoln
tried to stop the secession talk. There was only one “substantial dif-
ference” between the North and the South, Lincoln wrote. “You think
slavery is right and ought to be extended; we think it is wrong and
he mpending Crisis 213

ought to be restricted.” Proslavery southerners were unlikely to lis-
ten to Lincoln on this question. They heard the secessionist talk from
their preachers, from their church bodies, from their periodicals, from
their politicians—nowhere more so than in South Carolina, the only
state with a Black majority. Enslavers knew that abolitionism—and the
loss of federal power, White proslavery unity, and the ability to spread
out their enslaved population—all hindered their ability to control the
teeming slave resistance that had not relented in 1860. South Carolina
secessionists only had to utter one word to induce fear—Haiti—its
meaning well known. While Garrison considered secession to be sui-
cidal, some enslavers considered remaining in the Union to be sui-
cidal. In the final week of 1860, South Carolina enslavers took drastic
steps to ensure their safety.23

Histor y’s Emancipator

ON DECEMBER 24, 1860, South Carolina legislators alluded to the Dec-
laration of Independence when stating their reasons for secession.
Abolitionists were “inciting” contented captives to “servile insurrec-
tion,” and “elevating to citizenships” Blacks who constitutionally were
“incapable of becoming citizens.” South Carolina’s secession from the
United States did not just mean the loss of a state, and soon a region,
but the loss of the region’s land and wealth. The South had millions
of acres of land that were worth more in purely economic terms than
the almost 4 million enslaved human beings who were toiling on its
plantations in 1860. With their financial investments in the institution
of slavery and their dependence on its productivity, northern lend-
ers and manufacturers were crucial sponsors of slavery. And so, they
pushed their congressmen onto their compromising knees to restore
the Union. Garrison called all the “Union-saving efforts” of December
1860 and January 1861 “simply idiotic.” Whether smart or idiotic, they
failed. The rest of the Deep South seceded in January and February
1861. Florida’s secessionists issued a Declaration of Causes maintaining
that Blacks must be enslaved because everywhere “their natural ten-
dency” was toward “idleness, vagrancy and crime.”1
In February 1861, Jefferson Davis took the presidential oath of the
new Confederate States of America in Montgomery, Alabama. In his
Inaugural Address in March, Lincoln did not object to the proposed
Thirteenth Amendment, which would make slavery untouchable and
potentially reunite the union. But Lincoln did swear that he would never

istory ’s man ipator 215

allow the extension of slavery. On March 21, the Confederacy’s vice
president, Alexander Stephens, responded to Lincoln’s pledge in an
extemporaneous speech. The Confederate government, he declared,
rested “upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white
man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and
normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history
of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral
truth.” This “great . . . truth,” Stephens said, was the “corner-stone” of the
Confederacy. The speech became known as his “Cornerstone Speech.”2
In the new literature or propaganda for southern adults and chil-
dren, Confederates built upon this cornerstone with two stock charac-
ters: returning runaways who realized slavery was better than freedom;
and heroic Black Confederates defending slavery. There have always
been individual truths to support every generalized racist lie. It is true
that some Black opportunists sought favor if slavery persisted by sup-
porting the Confederate cause. It is true that some starving free Blacks
supported the rebels for lifesaving provisions. It is true that Black rac-
ists who believed that Black people were better off enslaved sometimes
voluntarily aided the Confederacy. The number of voluntary Black
Confederates? Probably not many. But no one can say for sure.3
Three weeks after Alexander Stephens laid the cornerstone, the
Confederates fired on Fort Sumter. On April 15, 1861, Lincoln raised
the Union Army to put down the “insurrection,” which, by the end
of May, included Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas.
No matter what Lincoln did not say about slavery, and no matter what
blame the Democrats put on abolitionists, to Black people and to abo-
litionists the Civil War was over slavery and enslavers were to blame.
On the Fourth of July at the annual abolitionist picnic in Framingham,
Massachusetts, William Lloyd Garrison repudiated “colorphobia” for
holding back northerners from supporting a war of emancipation. “Let
us see, in every slave, Jesus himself,” Garrison cried out.4
The Weekly Anglo-African forecasted that the millions of enslaved
Africans would not be “impassive observers.” Lincoln might deem it “a
white man’s war,” but enslaved Africans had “a clear and decided idea
of what they want—Liberty.”5
216 tamped from the Beginning
The Weekly Anglo-African was right. First dozens, then hundreds,
then thousands of runaways fled to Union forces in the summer of
1861. But Union soldiers enforced the Fugitive Slave Act with such an
iron fist that, according to one Maryland newspaper, more runaways
were returned in three months of the war “than during the whole of
Mr. Buchanan’s presidential term.” Northerners listened uneasily to
these reports of returning runaways side by side with reports of south-
ern Blacks being thrust into work for the Confederate military.6
After the Confederates humiliated Union soldiers in the First Bat-
tle of Bull Run in northern Virginia on July 21, 1861, proposals about
enslaved Africans’ potential war utility besieged Congress and the Lin-
coln administration. Initially, Congress passed a resolution emphati-
cally declaring that the war was not “for the purpose of overthrowing
or interfering with the rights and or established institutions of these
states.” But war demands soon changed their calculations. In early
August, the Republican-dominated Congress was forced to pass the
Confiscation Act over the objections of Democrats and border-state
Unionists. Lincoln reluctantly signed the bill, which said that slave-
holders forfeited their ownership of any property, including enslaved
Africans, used by the Confederate military. The Union could con-
fiscate such people as “contraband.” Legally, they were no longer
enslaved; nor were they freed. They could, however, work for the
Union Army for wages and live in the abysmal conditions of the con-
traband camps. One out of every four of the 1.1 million men, women,
and children in the contraband camps died in one of the worst pub-
lic health disasters in US history. Only 138 physicians were assigned
to care for them. Some physicians called contrabands “animals” and
blamed their mass deaths on inherent Black debilities, not the extreme
inadequacies of sanitation, food, and medical care.7
Despite the horrendous conditions, the number of Black contra-
bands increased every month. Slaves were running from the abys-
mal conditions of the plantations, particularly after Union soldiers
moved into the more densely populated Deep South. The New York
Times reported at the end of 1861 that enslaved Africans were “ear-
nestly desirous of liberty.” The growing number of runaways proved
istory ’s man ipator 217

that Confederate reports of contented captives was mere propaganda.
This form of Black resistance—not persuasion—finally started to
eradicate the racist idea of the docile Black person in northern minds.
President Lincoln did not encourage the runaways in his December
1861 Message to Congress. But he did request funding for colonizing
runaways and compensating Unionist emancipators to ensure that the
war did not “degenerate” into a “remorseless revolutionary struggle.”
Furious, Garrison shrieked in a letter that Lincoln did not have “a drop
of anti-slavery blood in his veins.”8
Every week in the spring of 1862, thousands of fugitives were
cutting through forests, reaching the southern Union lines, and leav-
ing behind paralyzed plantations and an increasingly divided Con-
federacy. Some soldiers deserted the Confederate Army. Some of
the Confederate deserters joined enslaved Africans to wage revolts
against their common enemies: wealthy planters. And some upcountry
non-slaveholding Whites had already become disillusioned fighting
this slaveholders’ war. Alexander H. Jones of eastern North Carolina
helped organize the 10,000-man Heroes of America, which laid an
“underground railroad” for White Unionists in Confederate territo-
ries to escape. “The fact is,” Jones wrote in a secret antiracist circular,
referring to the rich planters, that “these bombastic, highfalutin aristo-
cratic fools have been in the habit of driving negroes and poor helpless
white people until they think  .  .  . that they themselves are superior;
[and] hate, deride and suspicion the poor.”9
Up north, Radical Republicans pushed through a horde of anti-
slavery measures that southerners and their northern defenders had
opposed for years. By the summer of 1862, slavery was prohibited in
the territories, the ongoing transatlantic slave trade had been sup-
pressed, the United States recognized Haiti and Liberia, abolition had
arrived in Washington, DC, and the Union Army was forbidden from
returning fugitives to the South. The Fugitive Slave Act had been
effectively repealed. And then came the kicker: the Second Confis-
cation Act, passed and sent to Lincoln on July 17. The bill declared
all Confederate-owned Africans who escaped to Union lines or who
resided in territories occupied by the Union to be “forever free of their
218 tamped from the Beginning
servitude.” The Springfield Republican realized the bill’s power, stating
that enslaved Africans would become free “as fast as the armies pen-
etrate the South section.” But they were not penetrating the South
fast enough, and Union casualties were piling up. Confederate gen-
erals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson appeared to be headed for
sparsely defended Washington, DC, scaring Lincoln to death.
The Second Confiscation Act was a turning point, setting Union
policy on the road leading to emancipation. The war and the failure
to convince border states about the benefits of a gradual, compen-
sated emancipation had sapped Lincoln’s patience and the patience of
Congress. Lincoln had finally opened up to the idea of proclaiming
emancipation because it would save the Union (not because it would
save Black people). Cries of Unionist planters to salvage slavery amid
the war increasingly rankled him. “Broken eggs cannot be mended,” he
snapped to a Louisiana planter.
On July 22, 1862, five days after signing the Second Confiscation
Act, Lincoln submitted to his cabinet a new draft order, effective Jan-
uary 1, 1863. “All persons held as slaves within any state [under rebel
control] shall then, thenceforward, and forever, be free.” Lincoln’s staff
was stunned and became quickly divided over the Preliminary Eman-
cipation Proclamation. The cabinet made no immediate decision, but
word got out. Not many Americans took the proclamation seriously.10
Talk of runaways and contrabands and emancipation in the spring
and summer of 1862 invariably led to talk about colonization. North-
ern racists started looking to colonization as the only possibility for
freed Blacks. They feared Black people sprinting north, invading their
communities and becoming “roaming, vicious vagabonds,” as the Chi-
cago Tribune put it. Colonization provisions were stapled onto the Sec-
ond Confiscation Act and the 1862 decree abolishing slavery in the
nation’s capital. Colonization designs were behind the United States
opening diplomatic relations with Haiti and Liberia that year. In their
allocation measures in 1862, Congress set aside $600,000 (about $14
million today) to eject Black people from the country.
Black people made their opposition to colonization loud and clear
in the summer of 1862. Lincoln, desiring their support, welcomed five
istory ’s man ipator 219

Black men to the President’s House on August 14, 1862. The dele-
gation was led by the Reverend Joseph Mitchell, the commissioner
of emigration for the Interior Department. The discussion quickly
turned into a lecture. The Black race could never “be placed on an
equality with the white race” in the United States, Lincoln professed.
Whether this “is right or wrong I need not discuss,” he said. Lincoln
then blamed the presence of Blacks for the war. If Blacks leave, all will
be well, Lincoln touted. “Sacrifice something of your present com-
fort,” Lincoln advised, asking the group to press their fellow Blacks to
make the trek to Liberia and start anew. To refuse would be “extremely
Although the five Black men apparently found Lincoln’s views per-
suasive, Lincoln could not persuade the women and men who read
his lecture in the nation’s newspapers. William Lloyd Garrison angrily
tossed Lincoln’s words into The Liberator’s “Refuge of Oppression” sec-
tion, where he often put the words of slaveholders. It was not their
color that made “their presence here intolerable,” Garrison declared.
It was “their being free!” To Frederick Douglass, Lincoln showed “his
contempt for Negroes and his canting hypocrisy!”11

SIX DAYS AFTER meeting with the Black delegation, Lincoln gained an
opportunity to emphatically declare his views on war, emancipation,
and Black people. The nation’s most powerful editor, Horace Greeley,
inserted an open letter to the president in his leading New York Tri-
bune on August 20, 1862. Greeley had been as responsible for Lincoln’s
election as anyone. He urged Lincoln to enforce the “emancipation
provisions” of the Second Confiscation Act.12
“My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is
not either to save or to destroy slavery,” Lincoln replied in Greeley’s
rival paper, Washington’s National Intelligencer. “If I could save the Union
without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing
all the slaves I would do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored
race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union.” In the New
York Tribune, rising abolitionist Wendell Phillips hammered Lincoln’s
220 tamped from the Beginning
remarks as “the most disgraceful document that ever came from the
head of a free people.”13
With the war looking like a never-ending highway, the midterm
elections approaching, and runaways crippling Confederates faster
than Union bullets, Lincoln gathered his cabinet on September 22,
1862. After laying his poker face on Americans for months, he finally
showed his cards—cards William Lloyd Garrison never believed he
had. Lincoln issued the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. For
slaveholding Union states and any rebel state wishing to return, Lin-
coln once again offered gradual, compensated emancipation and col-
onization. For those states remaining in rebellion on January 1, 1863,
Lincoln proclaimed that “all persons held as slaves . . . shall be then,
thenceforward, and forever free.”14
“Thank God!” blared the Pittsburgh Gazette. “We shall cease to be
hypocrites and pretenders,” proclaimed Ralph Waldo Emerson. Wil-
liam Lloyd Garrison enjoyed the sound of “forever free,” but little else.
Lincoln, he fumed in private, could “do nothing for freedom in a direct
manner, but only by circumlocution and delay.”15
In his Message to Congress on December 1, 1862, Lincoln laid
out a more detailed plan for gradual, compensated emancipation and
colonization. Any slave state could remain or return to the Union if it
pledged loyalty and a willingness to abolish slavery at any time before
January 1, 1900. The US government would compensate such states
for freeing their human property, but if they decided to reintroduce
or tolerate enslavement, they would have to repay the emancipation
compensation. “Timely adoption” of gradual, compensated emancipa-
tion and colonization “would bring restoration,” Lincoln pleaded. The
Confederate leaders largely rejected Lincoln’s proposals, emboldened
by their stunning war victories in mid-December.16
Abraham Lincoln retired to his office on the afternoon of Janu-
ary 1, 1863. He read over the Emancipation Proclamation, “a fit and
necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion,” as he termed
it, that emancipated “all persons held as slaves” and allowed Black men
to join the Union Army. As Lincoln read the final statement, his abo-
litionist treasury secretary, Salmon B. Chase, suggested that he add
istory ’s man ipator 221

some morality. Lincoln acquiesced, adding, “Upon this act, sincerely
believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon
military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind, and
the gracious favor of Almighty God.”
In the next two years, Lincoln made himself available to writ-
ers, artists, photographers, and sculptors who memorialized him for
the historical record as the Great Emancipator. With his proclama-
tion, Lincoln emancipated about 50,000 Black people in the Union-

occupied Confederate areas that January. He kept enslaved the nearly
half-million African people in border states, in order to maintain their
owners’ loyalty. He also kept enslaved the roughly 300,000 African
people in the newly exempted formerly Confederate areas, in order
to establish their owners’ loyalty. More than 2 million African people
on Confederate plantations remained enslaved because Lincoln had
no power to free them. Democrats mocked Lincoln for “purposefully”
making “the proclamation inoperative in all places where . . . the slaves
[were] accessible,” and operative “only where he has notoriously no
power to execute it,” as the New York World put it.
But enslaved Africans now had the power to emancipate them-
selves. By the end of 1863, 400,000 Black people had escaped their
plantations and found Union lines, running toward the freedom guar-
anteed by the proclamation.17

SOME BLACK CHRISTIANS had long prayed for a Great Emancipator, and
they believed they had found him in Abraham Lincoln. Upper-crust
Bostonians erupted in pandemonium when news of Lincoln’s signa-
ture reached the afternoon Grand Jubilee Concert at Music Hall on
January 1, 1863. After the hat throwing, the handkerchief waving, the
hugging, the shouting, the stomping, the crying, the smiling, and the
kissing, the attendees began their own jubilee concert. “Three cheers
for GARRISON!” someone roared. Six thousand eyes turned and
searched out the fifty-seven-year-old editor who had prayed so many
times for this day to come. He leaned over the balcony wall, waved,
and beamed a smile that warmed New England.
222 tamped from the Beginning
Garrison praised the Emancipation Proclamation as a “turning
point.” From that day forward, Garrison became a “tenacious Union-
ist,” as ardent a defender and deifier of Abraham Lincoln as any Repub-
lican. Whereas before he had slammed Lincoln for his sluggishness
and indecision, Garrison now began to praise Lincoln’s “cautious” and
“considerate” manner.18
Some people did not worship Lincoln that night, and were espe-
cially critical of the very same cautiousness that Garrison praised. The
Black-owned San Francisco Pacific Appeal detested this “halfway mea-
sure,” insisting that “every bondsman” should have been emancipated,
and “every chain . . . broken.”19

Ready for Freedom?

IN LATE APRIL 1863, Willie Garrison, the editor’s second-oldest son,
brought home an acquaintance: German immigrant Henry Villard,
one of the war’s most talented young journalists. Villard had just come
from the Sea Islands of South Carolina, where he had observed the
war’s first emancipated people and the first regiments of Black troops.
Villard shared with the Garrisons his racist observations of the “half-

heathenish blacks” in coastal South Carolina. As he did so, he con-
demned the Blacks’ “savage superstitions” and described their “fetish
worship” in ways that showed he did not understand their African reli-
gions or the ways in which they were remolding Christianity to suit
their cultures. Villard derisively called their Gullah language “jargon”
and looked down on them for not comprehending “our English.” Using
the same line of thinking, the Sea Island Blacks could have called Vil-
lard’s language “jargon” and his religion “savage” and looked down on
him for not comprehending their “Gullah” or their gods. Nevertheless,
Villard’s observations confirmed what Garrison had long believed, that
“nothing else could be expected, indeed, from creatures who had been
purposely kept in the conditions of brutes,” as Villard said.1
For years, northern racists had agreed, almost religiously, that
enslaved Africans were like brutes. They disagreed, among them-
selves, about the capacity of Black people for freedom, independence,
and civilization. This racist northern debate—segregationists ada-
mant about Black brutes’ incapacity, assimilationists like Garrison and
Villard adamant about Black brutes’ capacity—became the primary

224 tamped from the Beginning
conversation in the wake of emancipation. Hardly anyone in a posi-
tion of authority—whether in the economic elite, the political elite,
the cultural elite, or the intellectual elite—brought antiracist ideas of
equal Black people into this conversation.2
During his Boston stay, Villard accompanied the Garrisons about
thirteen miles south to watch the drilling exercises of the 54th Mas-
sachusetts Volunteer Infantry. In January 1863, Lincoln had asked the
Massachusetts governor to organize a Black regiment. “Men of Color,
to Arms!” became the rallying point for Black male leaders. By fighting
in the army, Black men were made to believe that they could earn their
right to citizenship—as if Black men had to—or could—earn their
rights. Black male leaders spoke endlessly of soldiers vindicating Black
manhood, which itself rested on the racist assumption that there was
something truly lacking in Black manhood that could only be ame-
liorated by killing or being killed by Confederates. At the same time,
some White Unionists posed having to fight “shoulder to shoulder,
with this seething, sooty negro,” as a threat to their superior manhood,
as New York City’s Democratic congressman James Brooks com-
plained. It was a nasty convergence of racist and sexist ideas on the
part of both Black and White men. By the war’s end, almost 200,000
Black men had served in the war. They had been killed by the thou-
sands and had killed thousands of Confederates. So much death as the
weak Black male stereotype lived on.3
When Indiana’s governor commended Black troops for bringing
back their equipment when White troops did not, the Indianapolis
State Sentinel registered an all-out effort to “disparage the white soldiers
and elevate the negro soldiers.” White soldiers never reported to Black
officers, they faced more combat, were rarely enslaved or killed when
captured, and were paid more money. Still, the accusation of Black
favoritism was unending.
Racist ideas were easy to revise, especially as the demands of dis-
criminators changed. Democrats changed their racist ideas to properly
attack Black soldiers. While before the war they had justified slavery
by stressing Black male physical superiority, during the war they pro-
moted White soldiers and stressed White male physical superiority.
eady for reedom? 225

While before the war they had justified slavery by deeming Blacks
naturally docile and well equipped to take orders, during the war they
stressed that Blacks were uncontrollable brutes, arguing against the
Republicans, who said that naturally docile Blacks made great soldiers.
Republicans often credited superb Black performances on the battle-
field to their superb submissiveness and to their excellent White com-
manders. Both sides used the same language, the same racist ideas at
different points, to make their case, reinforcing the language and ideas
with plausible examples on the battlefield.4
After the Union’s excitement over winning at Gettysburg in early
July 1863, and the success at Vicksburg, which divided the Confed-
eracy into two, depressing war news came from South Carolina. On
July 18, 1863, almost half of the Black 54th Massachusetts had been
killed, captured, or wounded while leading the failed assault on Fort
Wagner. The beachhead fortification defended the southern approach
to the citadel of the South, Charleston. Six hundred tired and hungry
Blacks had sprinted in a twilight of bullets and shells toward “mad-
dened” Confederates and engaged in ferocious hand-to-hand combat.
The stories of this battle shot through the North almost as quickly as
the Confederacy murdered the captured. The New York Tribune accu-
rately predicted that the battle would be the decisive turning point in
the northern debate over Blacks’ capacity to fight. As it turned out, the
battle was decisive in more ways than one.5
Catholic publicist Orestes A. Brownson had been one of many
powerful Americans advocating emancipation as a war measure
and colonization as a postwar measure, and he had advised Lincoln
accordingly in 1862. After Fort Wagner, Brownson had to admit that
the “negro, having shed his blood in defense of the country, has the
right to regard it as his country. And hence deportation or forced col-
onization is henceforth out of the question.”6
President Lincoln still held out hope for colonization early in
1863. He advanced money to a Black minister establishing a settle-
ment in Liberia, and he complained to an Ohio congressman that he
did not “know what we should do with these people—Negroes—after
peace came.” War demands for able-bodied soldiers, and the postwar
226 tamped from the Beginning
demands for able-bodied and loyal southern labor and voters, had
begun to shift public opinion away from colonization. The debacle
of the Lincoln administration’s colonization schemes sealed the move-
ment’s fate. By July 1863, Lincoln was speaking about the “failure” of
colonization. In 1864, Congress froze its appropriation for coloniza-
tion, and Lincoln abandoned it as a potential postwar policy. The Chi-
cago Tribune confidently declared “The End of Colonization.” But it was
not the end of racism. The Lincoln administration’s progression of rac-
ism meant confining these loyal Black voters and laborers to the South,
away from the northern and western free White soil.7
The reconstruction of the Union seemed to be on everyone’s
mind, including abolitionists. In late January 1864, Garrison chal-
lenged an anti-Lincoln resolution at the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery
Society meeting. Garrison’s longtime friend Wendell Phillips, primed
to take the helm of abolitionism from his old friend and mentor, labeled
Lincoln “a half-converted, honest Western Whig, trying to be an
abolitionist.” As Garrison stared down emancipation, Phillips looked
past emancipation at the reconstruction of the United States. Back in
December 1863, Lincoln had announced his Proclamation of Amnesty
and Reconstruction, which offered restoration of rights (except slave-
holding) to all Confederates taking the loyalty oath. When loyalty
levels reached 10 percent, states could establish governments that
restricted civil rights for Black residents, Lincoln had proposed. But
this proposal “frees the slave and ignores the negro,” Phillips snapped.
The sizable free biracial community of New Orleans snapped, too,
demanding voting rights. These biracial activists separated “their
struggle from that of the Negroes,” said an observer. “In their eyes,
they were nearer to the white man; they were more advanced than the
slave in all respects.” Overtures to Louisiana Whites failed, and bira-
cial activists had no choice but to swallow their racist pride and ally
with emancipated Blacks by the end of 1864.8
Garrison’s principled courage, which had made him a legend when
emancipation seemed so far away, had been replaced by practical fear
in 1864 when abolition seemed so close. Garrison feared Democrats
gobbling up enough war-weary and anti-emancipation voters to seize
eady for reedom? 227

presidential power, negotiate a war settlement, and maintain slavery.
“Let us possess our souls in patience,” he wrote. William Lloyd Garri-
son—the longtime evangelist of immediate emancipation—counseled
Maryland Unionists went ahead with plans to reconstruct their
state without slavery. To encourage them, Lincoln made the short trip
to Baltimore and gave one of the most insightful abolitionist speeches
of his career on April 18, 1864. He answered the enduring Ameri-
can paradox: How could the land of freedom also be the land of slav-
ery? “With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he
pleases with himself, and the product of his labor,” he said, “while with
others the same word may mean for some men to do as they please
with other men, and the product of other men’s labor.” Lincoln used
an analogy for clarification. “The shepherd drives the wolf from the
sheep’s throat, for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as a liberator,
while the wolf denounces him for the same act as the destroyer of
liberty, especially as the sheep was a black one,” he said. “Hence we
behold the processes by which thousands are daily passing from under
the yoke of bondage, hailed by some as the advance of liberty, and
bewailed by others as the destruction of all liberty.” Lincoln’s freedom
analogy, vividly evocative of his self-identity as the Great Emancipa-
tor, rewrote current events. Most enslaved Africans were hardly sheep,
waiting on the Union shepherds to come to their plantations and lead
them to freedom. The Union lines proved, if anything in this analogy,
to be the stable of freedom. While Lincoln emancipated a minority of
sheep, most fought off or slipped away from the Confederate wolves
on their plantations on their own, and then ran to freedom on their
own, and then into the Union Army on their own to put down the
Confederate wolves.10
Since issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln had begun
to imagine himself (as Garrison long had) as the liberating shepherd of
Black people, who were in need of civilizing direction. On November
1, 1864, Maryland’s emancipation day, the freed people paraded to the
President’s House. Lincoln addressed them, urging them to “improve
yourself, both morally and intellectually,” while supporting Maryland’s
228 tamped from the Beginning
new constitution, which prevented them from improving themselves
socioeconomically. Maryland’s constitution barred Blacks from voting
and from attending public schools. The constitution also sent thou-
sands of Black children into long-term indentures to their former mas-
ters, against their parents’ objections. Lincoln seemed to follow in the
footsteps of Thomas Jefferson. Pay lip service to the cause of Black
uplift, while supporting the racist policies that ensured the downfall of
Black people.11
In setting out the terms of emancipation, Maryland (and Louisiana)
ignored the recommendations of the American Freedmen’s Inquiry
Commission (AFIC), which had been authorized by the War Depart-
ment at the request of Massachusetts senator Charles Sumner. In its
widely publicized final report in May 1864, the commission called for
equal rights, laws allowing Blacks to purchase land, and the creation of
a temporary Bureau of Emancipation to shepherd freed people toward
self-reliance. One commissioner, Boston abolitionist James McKaye,
advocated redistributing confiscated Confederate land to landless
Whites and emancipated people.
In promoting equal rights, McKaye and the other two commission-
ers, Indiana reformer Robert Dale Owen and New England abolition-
ist Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe, never entertained the idea that Blacks
and Whites were truly equal. They had been charged with answering
questions regarding the “condition and capacity” of Blacks for free-
dom and free labor, a task whose real aim was assuaging Whites who
feared the effects of emancipation. Are Blacks naturally lazy? Would
Blacks invade and ruin the North? Could Black labor be more prof-
itable in freedom than in slavery? In his AFIC report on runaways in
Canada, Howe forecasted that Blacks “will co-operate powerfully with
whites from the North in re-organizing the industry of the South.”
However, “they will dwindle,” this Social Darwinist made sure to note,
“and gradually disappear from the peoples of this continent.” Com-
missioner Owen eased fearful northerners’ anxieties by speaking more
to the potential contributions of African Americans in AFIC’s final
report. Their “softening influence,” drawn from their “womanly” dispo-
sition, would one day improve the hardened “national character.” The
eady for reedom? 229

Anglo-Saxon “head predominates over the heart,” he wrote. “The Afri-
can race is in many respects the reverse of this.” A decade after Stowe’s
Uncle Tom’s Cabin, abolitionists still viewed Black people through its rac-
ist lens.12
The AFIC reports were the most popular works to appear amid
the sudden rush of emancipation literature about the future of Black
people. Observations noting that slavery had not turned Blacks into
brutes had a home in the post-emancipation reports, for anyone will-
ing to wade through all of the racist testimonies to reach them. Before
supervising the contrabands of Virginia, one Union Army captain,
C. B. Wilder, admitted, “I did not think [Black people] had so much
brain.” His experiences had taught him that “they have got as many
brains as you or I have, though they have an odd way of showing it.”
At the end of 1864, 78 percent of the contrabands under Wilder’s
supervision were “independent of assistance.” A superintendent of con-
trabands in the Mississippi Valley described Black intelligence to be “as
good as that of men, women & children anywhere, of any color, who
cannot read.”13
William Lloyd Garrison was not among those who questioned the
brutishness of former slaves. For thirty years, Garrison had moved
northerners toward abolitionism by sensationalizing the idea that slav-
ery made people into brutes. Like any racist, he dismissed the evidence
that undermined his theory, and hardened his theory with evidence
that supported it. In July 1864, Garrison defended Lincoln’s support of
laws that restricted the citizenship rights of Blacks. “According to the
laws of development and progress, it is not practicable,” Garrison said,
to give undeveloped Black men the vote.14

GARRISON HAD A difficult time defending Lincoln in the summer of 1864.

Democratic editors and politicians were blitzing voters on the dangers
of continued war, emancipated Black people invading the North, and
Republican-supported miscegenation. War morale had dropped to its
lowest level. A Confederate regiment neared Washington, DC, and
Union armies were hardly winning battles. The war news got so bad
230 tamped from the Beginning
that on August 22, 1864, the Republican National Committee deter-
mined that Lincoln could not be reelected. No one had to tell that to
“I am a beaten man, unless we can have some great victory,” Lin-
coln reportedly said on August 31. Two days later, General William T.
Sherman sacked Atlanta. Subsequent victories boosted voter support
for the Republicans, and they consolidated their support by match-
ing the Democrats’ anti-Black ire. Repulsed, Black Americans came
together for their first national convention in a decade. They blasted
Republicans for remaining “largely under the influence of the prevail-
ing contempt for the character and rights of the colored man.” In spite
of—or maybe because of—Black Americans’ rebuke of Republicans,
roughly 55 percent of Unionist Americans voted for Lincoln, and his
party claimed three-quarters of the Congress. Forty-five percent of
Unionist Americans voted for the Democrats to restore a union with
A week after Lincoln’s reelection, General Sherman departed cap-
tured Atlanta and steered 60,000 Union soldiers in the fabled March
to the Sea. Sherman put his total war policies into full effect. The
soldiers scorched the Confederate earth—the military installments,
communications networks, plantations—everything in their path.
Twenty thousand runaways joined the March to the Sea. Reporters
telegraphed news of his successful victories to thoroughly pleased
Unionist northerners. By Christmas, Sherman and his tens of thou-
sands of soldiers and runaways had entered Savannah—and the hearts
of millions.
Secretary of War Edwin McMasters Stanton arrived in Savannah
after the New Year and urged General Sherman to meet with local
Blacks over their future. Meeting with twenty leaders, mostly Bap-
tist and Methodist ministers, on January 12, 1865, General Sherman
received a crash course on their definitions of slavery and freedom.
Slavery meant “receiving by irresistible power the work of another
man, and not by his consent,” said the group’s spokesman, Garri-
son Frazier (The Liberator editor’s name was everywhere). Freedom
was “placing us where we could reap the fruit of our own labor.” To
eady for reedom? 231

accomplish this—to be truly free—we must “have land.” When asked
whether they desired interracial communities, Frazier shared their
preference “to live by ourselves.” There was “a prejudice against us in
the South that will take years to get over.”
Black people all over the South were saying this to Union offi-
cials: Do not abolish slavery and leave us landless. Do not force us to
work for our former masters and call that freedom. They distinguished
between abolishing slavery and freeing people. You can only set us free by
providing us with land to “till . . . by our own labor,” they declared.
In offering postwar policy, Black people were rewriting what it meant
to be free. And, in antiracist fashion, they were rejecting integration
as a race relations strategy that involved Blacks showing Whites their
equal humanity. They were rejecting uplift suasion—rejecting the job
of working to undo the racist ideas of Whites by not performing ste-
reotypes. Racist ideas, they were saying, were only in the eyes of the
beholder, and only the beholders of racist ideas were responsible for
their release.16
Savannah Blacks did not mention this, but millions of White set-
tlers who had acquired western land, confiscated from rebel native
communities over the years, had been freed. These Savannah Blacks—
their peers across the South—were only asking for the same from
rebel Confederate communities. But racist ideas rationalized the rac-
ist policy. White settlers on government-provided land were deemed
receivers of American freedom; Black people, receivers of American
handouts. Whenever talks earlier in the war touched on distribut-
ing land to Black people, Americans showed a respect for the landed
rights of warring Confederates that they rarely showed for the landed
rights of peaceful Native Americans. Since the federal government
had started selling confiscated and abandoned southern land to private
owners in 1863, more than 90 percent had gone to northern Whites
over the widespread protests of local Blacks.17
Four days after he met with Savannah Blacks, General Sher-
man issued Special Field Order No. 15 to rid his camps of runaways
and punish Confederates. He opened settlements for Black families
on forty-acre plots of land on the Sea Islands and a large slice of the
232 tamped from the Beginning
coastal areas of South Carolina and Georgia. By June 1865, 40,000
people had been settled on the plots and had been given old army
mules. Sherman’s field order was not the first of its kind. Black squat-
ters on the Mississippi land of Jefferson Davis’s family had formed
their own government and swung a cotton profit of $160,000. “Davis
Bend” became a testament of what Savannah Blacks were saying in
those days: all Black people needed was to be left alone, secure on
their own lands and guaranteed their own rights.
And yet, for so many racist Americans, it was inconceivable that
Black people had not been damaged by slavery: that Black people
could dance into freedom without skipping a beat. General John C.
Robinson worried about landowning “sluggish” Blacks preventing “the
energy and industry of the North” from utilizing the valuable acre-
age. Assimilationists Frederick Douglass and Horace Greeley rebuked
Sherman’s order, calling for interracial communities and ignoring the
desires of local Blacks. Greeley wrote in his New York Tribune on Jan-
uary 30, 1865, that southern Blacks, “like their fellows at the North,”
must be “aided by contact with white civilization to become good citi-
zens and enlightened men.”18
President Lincoln did not overturn Sherman’s field order; nor did
he offer his public support or disapproval. At the time, Lincoln was
busy expending his political energy on the House of Representatives.
It paid off. On January 31, 1865, House members passed the Thir-
teenth Amendment abolishing slavery. The eruption of Republicans
on the House floor—all the hugging, and dancing, and crying, and
smiling, and shouting—foreshadowed emancipation parties and meet-
ings across the United States that night and for nights to come.
The Thirteenth Amendment brought comfort to a weary
emancipation-centered activist who was bickering with abolitionists
pressing for Black civil rights. Days before the amendment’s passage,
Frederick Douglass and Wendell Phillips had passionately objected
to readmitting Louisiana at the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society
meeting. To deny Blacks in Louisiana voting rights was “to brand us
with the stigma of inferiority,” Douglass intoned. Defending Louisi-
ana’s readmission and Lincoln, William Lloyd Garrison argued back
eady for reedom? 233

that suffrage was a “conventional right . . . not to be confused with the
natural right” to liberty. Political equality was bound to come some-
day, he explained, but only after Black “industrial and educational
On March 3, 1865, Congress established the Bureau of Refugees,
Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, or the Freedmen’s Bureau, heeding
the principal recommendation of the American Freedmen’s Inquiry
Commission. Quite possibly the most difficult duty the bureau had
been given was to establish racial equality before the law in places
where “to kill a negro they do not deem murder; to debauch a negro
woman they do not think fornication; to take the property away from a
Negro, they do not consider robbery,” as one Union colonel observed.
Another Union general, Oliver Otis Howard, was given charge of the
Freedmen’s Bureau. The New England native believed that emanci-
pated Blacks wished to be dependent on government because they
were used to being dependent on their masters. When the bureau was
dissolved in 1869, General Howard bragged that his agency had not
been a “pauperizing agency,” since so “few” had been assisted. Officials
of an assisting agency bragging about not assisting people? It only
made sense in the context of racist ideas. But the fact that the bureau
did help some people, and created some semblance of equal opportu-
nity, was too much for segregationists like Dr. Josiah C. Nott. In an
1866 open letter to Howard, Nott stammered, “All the power of the
Freedmen’s Bureau or ‘gates of hell’ cannot prevail” against the perma-
nent natural laws that kept Black people from creating civilization.20

ON APRIL 3, 1865, Robert E. Lee’s army stopped defending Richmond.

The next day, President Lincoln walked those same streets. Black peo-
ple who had freed themselves ran up to him, fell on their knees, kissed
his hands, and lifted Lincoln up as their “Messiah.” Massachusetts sen-
ator Charles Sumner hoped their outpouring of praise would finally
convince Lincoln to support Black suffrage. Black people had loftier
goals: “All was equal,” someone said. “All the land belongs to the Yan-
kees now and they gwine divide it out among de colored people.”21
234 tamped from the Beginning
On April 9, Lee’s army surrendered, ending the Civil War. “Slav-
ery is dead,” announced the Cincinnati Enquirer. “The negro is not, there
is our misfortune.” On April 11, Lincoln delivered his reconstruction
plans before a sizable crowd in front of the President’s House. In
defending the readmission of Louisiana, the president recognized that
it “was unsatisfactory to some that the elective franchise is not given
to the colored men.” He expressed his preference for bestowing voting
rights on “the very intelligent” Blacks and Black “soldiers.”22
Never before had an American president expressed his preference
for even limited Black suffrage. “That means nigger citizenship,” mur-
mured a twenty-six-year-old actor, from a family of famous thespians
in Maryland. John Wilkes Booth and his Confederate conspirators
had planned to kidnap Lincoln and demand the release of Confed-
erate troops. “Now, by God,” Booth reportedly said, staring savagely
at Lincoln, “I’ll put him through.” On April 14, Mary and Abraham
Lincoln took in a play, Our American Cousin, from his presidential booth
at Ford’s Theatre. When Lincoln’s bodyguard stepped away sometime
after 10 p.m., Booth crept up behind Lincoln and shot a bullet into
Lincoln’s skull.23
It was Good Friday, 1865, and Lincoln passed the next morning
as the crucified Great Emancipator. “Lincoln died for us,” remarked a
Black South Carolinian. “Christ died for we, and me believe him de
same mans.”24
With emancipation assured, William Lloyd Garrison retired
three weeks after Lincoln’s death. “My vocation, as an Abolitionist,
thank God, is ended,” he said. Other abolitionists refused to retire
with him. American Anti-Slavery Society (AASS) members refused
Garrison’s request to dissolve, gave his presidential chair to Wendell
Phillips, and remade their new slogan: “No Reconstruction without
Negro Suffrage.” AASS members had high expectations for Lincoln’s
replacement: a Tennessee Democrat born into poverty, who had once
signaled to Blacks, “I will indeed be your Moses,” and who had once
stammered to planters, “Tall poppies must be struck down.”25

Reconstr ucting Slaver y

PRESIDENT ANDREW JOHNSON issued his Reconstruction proclamations
on May 29, 1865, deflating the high hopes of civil rights activists.
He offered amnesty, property rights, and voting rights to all but the
highest Confederate officials (most of whom he pardoned a year later).
Feeling empowered by President Johnson, Confederates barred Blacks
from voting, elected Confederates as politicians, and instituted a series
of discriminatory Black codes at their constitutional conventions to
reformulate their state in the summer and fall of 1865. With the Thir-
teenth Amendment barring slavery “except as a punishment for crime,”
the law replaced the master. The postwar South became the spitting
image of the prewar South in everything but name.
Of course, lawmakers justified these new racist policies with racist
ideas. They proclaimed that the Black codes—which forced Blacks
into labor contracts, barred their movement, and regulated their fam-
ily lives—were meant to restrain them because they were naturally
lazy, lawless, and oversexed. “If you call this Freedom,” a Black veteran
asked, “what do you call Slavery?”
Southern Blacks defended themselves in the war of re-enslavement,
lifted up demands for rights and land, and issued brilliant antiracist
retorts to the prevailing racist ideas. If any group should be character-
ized as “lazy,” it was the planters, who had “lived in idleness all their
lives on stolen labor,” resolved a Petersburg, Virginia, mass meeting.
It had always been amazing to enslaved people how someone could
lounge back, drink lemonade, and look out over their fields, and call

236 tamped from the Beginning
the bent-over pickers lazy. To the racist forecasts that Blacks would not
be able to take care of themselves, one emancipated person replied,
“We used to support ourselves and our masters too when we were
slaves and I reckon we can take care of ourselves now.” When Presi-
dent Johnson evicted Blacks from their forty-acre plots in the summer
and fall of 1865, Black people protested. “We has a right to the land we
are located,” Virginia’s Bayley Wyatt griped. “Our wives, our children,
our husbands, has been sold over and over again to purchase the lands
we now locates upon.”1
In September 1865, Pennsylvania congressman Thaddeus Stevens,
arguably the most antiracist of the “Radical Republicans” favoring civil
rights, proposed (and did not get approval for) the redistribution of
the 400 million acres held by the wealthiest 10 percent of southerners.
Every adult freedman would be granted forty acres, and the remaining
90 percent of the total would be sold in plots to the “highest bidder” to
pay for the war and retire the national debt. Congress forced only one
group of slaveholders to provide land to their former captives—the
Confederacy’s Native American allies.
The most popular defense against land redistribution was that
it would “ruin the freedmen” by leading them to believe they could
acquire land without “working for it,” as the antislavery cotton manu-
facturer Edward Atkinson suggested. Did Atkinson really believe his
own argument? This rich entrepreneur knew more than anyone that
many rich men had not been ruined when they had inherited land
without “working for it.” Most Republicans wanted the government to
create equality before the law, with all men having the same constitu-
tional and voting rights. After that, they believed the government was
finished. “The removal of white prejudice against the negro, depends
almost entirely on the negro himself,” declared The Nation, a period-
ical devoted to equal rights founded in July 1865, with Garrison’s
third-oldest son, Wendell, as assistant editor.2
William Lloyd Garrison and so many of the abolitionists he
inspired chose not to engage in the political struggle against racial
discrimination. Garrison failed to realize that it was his genius that had
transformed abolitionism from a complex, multi-issue political project
e onstru ting lavery 237

with unclear battle lines and objectives into a simple, single-issue
moral project: slavery was evil, and those racists justifying or ignoring
slavery were evil, and it was the moral duty of the United States to
eliminate the evil of slavery. Garrison did not use his genius again for
antiracism, in declaring that racial disparities were evil, and that those
racists justifying or ignoring disparities were evil, and that it was the
moral duty of the United States to eliminate the evil of racial dispar-
ities. He was too bogged down by the assimilationist idea that Black
people needed to be developed by northerners. In the final months
of The Liberator, Garrison allocated substantial space and praise to the
northern missionaries’ project of building southern schools for eman-
cipated people. Never mind that the northern missionaries were not
just handling the building and fund-raising but also planning to con-
trol and staff the schools and “civilize” the students.
Antiracist southern Blacks were not waiting on northern assim-
ilationists. “Throughout the entire South an effort is being made by
the colored people to educate themselves,” reported the Freedmen’s
Bureau’s superintendent of schools, John W. Alvord, in early 1866,
after touring the South. These emancipated people were neither look-
ing at the White missionaries as superior nor considering them their
saviors. Black Georgia educators, for instance, said in February 1866
that they hoped White teachers were not in the South “in any vain
reliance on their superior gifts . . . or in any foolish self-confidence that
they have a special call to this office, or special endowments to meet
its demands.”3
On December 18, 1865, the United States officially added the
Thirteenth Amendment to its Constitution. “At last, the old ‘covenant
with death’ is annulled,” Garrison wrote in the second-to-last issue of
the voice of abolitionism. The Liberator had been established to destroy
chattel slavery, he said in the final issue, on December 29, 1865. Now
that slavery was dead and buried, it seemed only fitting to let The Liber-
ator’s “existence cover the historic period of the great struggle.”4
Without The Liberator, Garrison soon felt “like a hen plucked of its
feathers.” After two bad falls in early 1866 took him out of commission,
he largely watched Reconstruction from the sidelines. He watched
238 tamped from the Beginning
Frederick Douglass head a delegation of Black male suffragists into the
President’s House on February 7, 1866. The meeting quickly turned
combative when President Andrew Johnson said state majorities
should decide voting rights. When someone retorted that Blacks were
a majority in South Carolina, a miffed Johnson elaborated on his true
fear: that Black voters looked down on poor Whites and would forge a
political alliance with planters to rule them. When Douglass proposed
“a party . . . among the poor,” Johnson was disinterested.5
Whether Douglass admitted it or not, some—perhaps most—
Blacks did look down on poor Whites. They denigrated the Whites
who did not enslave them as “White trash.” Actually, some uncorrob-
orated reports suggest that enslaved Blacks created that term. Blacks
had seen poor Whites doing the master’s dirty work, as overseers, or
on slave patrols, while clinging to the stinking fallacy that the lowest
of them was still better than the highest Black person. And if poor
Whites were “White trash,” then what were elite Whites? Black con-
sumers of racist ideas had come to associate Whiteness with wealth
and power, and education and slaveholding. Only through the “White
trash” construction could ideas of superior Whiteness be maintained,
as it made invisible the majority of White people, the millions in pov-
erty, by saying they were not ordinary Whites: they were “White
trash.” Similarly, the upwardly mobile Blacks were not really Black:
they were extraordinary. At some point, racist and classist White elites
started embracing the appellation to demean low-income Whites.
“White trash” conveyed that White elites were the ordinary represen-
tatives of Whiteness.6

AS IT WAS, Black people no longer needed Andrew Johnson to secure

some of their postwar rights. Republican senator Lyman Trumbull
of Illinois stayed true to his 1862 Free Soil word: “Our people want
nothing to do with the negroes.” He felt the fervid panic that Blacks
would flood the North in reaction to the violence, the Black codes,
and the reelection of Confederates in 1865. To secure Black people in
the South, Senator Trumbull and his anti-Black Republican comrades
e onstru ting lavery 239

allied with the Radical Republicans in February 1866 to extend the
Freedmen’s Bureau. The “immense patronage” would hinder the “char-
acter” and “prospects” of emancipated Blacks who caused the South’s
problems by desiring to lead a “life of indolence,” President Johnson
argued in his stunning veto of the Freedmen’s Bureau bill on February
19, 1866 (Congress overrode the veto in the summer).7
Senator Trumbull and company moved on to pass the Civil Rights
Act of 1866 in March. The bill bestowed citizenship rights on all born
in the United States and barred the “deprivation” of “any right secured
or protected by this act” on the account of one’s “color or race.” Con-
gress did not consider voting to be an essential right of US citizenship.
Though aimed at southern Black codes, the act also invalidated north-
ern Black codes that had discriminated against Blacks for decades. But
the bill was limited in that it did not target private, local, or race-veiled
laws of racial discrimination. Discriminatory racial language (not racial
inequities) became the proof of racism for the federal courts—the
apparatus charged with the huge burden of enforcing equal treatment.
It was like writing laws for premeditated murders and not writing man-
slaughter laws for murders that the state could not prove were pre-
meditated. The shrewdest discriminators switched tactics, and simply
avoided using racial language to veil their discriminatory intent, to get
away with racial murder.
President Johnson vetoed the Civil Rights Act of 1866 even in
its limited, moderate form. Only from the perspective of someone
who refused to acknowledge discrimination in racial disparities, who
wanted to maintain White privileges and the power to discriminate,
could this bill be seen as “in favor of the colored and against the white
race,” to use Johnson’s words. Johnson came from a Democratic Party
busily shouting that to give Blacks voting rights would result in “nigger
domination.” If there was any semblance of equal opportunity, these
racists argued, then Blacks would become dominators and Whites
would suffer. This was—and still is—the racist folklore of reverse dis-
crimination. Andrew Johnson crafted this form of racism. And long
after Congress impeached him, he still topped lists of the worst US
240 tamped from the Beginning
In early April 1866, Congress overrode the presidential veto,
turned its back on the president, and strode toward the Radical
Reconstruction of the South. Southern violence against Blacks made
congressmen move more quickly and forcefully to stop Blacks from
coming north. In early May 1866, White mobs in Memphis killed at
least forty-eight Black people, gang-raped at least five Black women,
and looted or destroyed $100,000 worth of Black-owned property.
Federal authorities slyly blamed nearby Black troops for provoking the
violence, and they used their lies to substantiate redeploying them as
“Buffalo Soldiers” out West. As southern Black citizens were killed over
the next few decades to make way for Jim Crow, Buffalo Soldiers killed
indigenous communities in the West to make way for White settlers.9
The irony was cruel—as cruel as the elite Blacks who blamed
rural migrants for the race riot and urged their removal from Mem-
phis. During and after the war, rural Blacks across the South had fled
to southern cities and heard racist southerners—many Black elites
included—predicting that the migrants would descend into idleness
and criminality. It was said that God had made Black people to culti-
vate the soil (actually, Black elites diverged on this point). Black urban-
ites, new and old, were resisting discrimination and building schools,
churches, and associations, achieving a modicum of economic secu-
rity. And yet, their uplift did not improve race relations. Their uplift—
and activism and migration—only fueled the violence in Memphis and
As White southern violence spread, Democratic newspapers pub-
lished stories arguing that masters’ loss of control was energizing the
Black crime wave. Southerners also read stories of the “murder and
mutilation” of Whites in Jamaica by “infuriated negro savages, bent on
destroying the civilization which surrounds and vexes them.” Jamai-
ca’s 1865 revolt was, in fact, a freedom fight against British slavery
in everything but name. So it made sense that those who were try-
ing to re-enslave the emancipated in the United States feared another
Jamaica. They used any opportunity to attack Black communities to
prevent it, and every racist idea to justify their attacks.11
e onstru ting lavery 241

DAYS BEFORE THE Memphis riot, a compromise proposal appeared before
Congress that incorporated all of the divergent postwar issues into
a single constitutional amendment, including denying Confederates
the ability to hold office and placing Confederate war debt on south-
ern laps. The Fourteenth Amendment’s first clause pleased the Radi-
cal Republicans: “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall
abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States;
nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property,
without due process of law, nor deny to any person within its jurisdic-
tion the equal protection of the laws.” For the sake of the amendment’s
passage, most Republicans rejected demands to define this statement’s
terms. Republicans did not deny Democrats’ charges that the amend-
ment was “open to ambiguity and . . . conflicting constructions.” The
ambiguity effectively ensured that both antiracists and racists would
vie for the amendment’s power. Indeed, both the defenders of equal
opportunity and the defenders of White “privileges or immunities”
would vie for the riches of the Fourteenth Amendment after its pas-
sage on June 13, 1866 (and ratification in 1868).12
For not guaranteeing Black male suffrage, Wendell Phillips blasted
the Fourteenth Amendment as a “fatal and total surrender.” Repub-
licans argued that omitting suffrage was strategically necessary.
They told Black male suffragists that “‘the negro must vote,’ but the
issue must be avoided now so as ‘to keep up a two thirds power in
Suffragists Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton believed
the woman must vote, too, and they joined Black male suffragists in
founding the American Equal Rights Association (AERA) in 1866. “I
would not trust [a Black man] with my rights; degraded, oppressed,
himself, he would be more despotic  .  .  . than ever our Saxon rulers
are,” Stanton said at the AERA’s first annual meeting in 1867. With the
“elevation of women,” it would be possible to “develop the Saxon race
into a higher and nobler life and thus, by law of attraction, to lift all
races,” she added. Stanton offered an enduring rationalization for the
racist idea of the hypersexist Black male, of Black men being more sexist
242 tamped from the Beginning
than White men. It was the consequence of his racial oppression; the
abused becoming the abuser.14
Sojourner Truth rose to defend Stanton’s opposition to the Fif-
teenth Amendment. “White women are a great deal smarter,” Truth
said, “while colored women do not know scarcely anything.” After
wielding racist ideas against colored women, the eighty-year-old leg-
end turned her racist ideas onto colored men. Colored women “go
out washing . . . and their men go about idle,” she said. “And when the
women come home, they ask for money and take it all, and then scold
because there is no food.”15

WHEN MIDTERM ELECTORS in 1866 sent the two-thirds majority of

Republicans necessary to override presidential vetoes back to Con-
gress, President Johnson was not dismayed. If Republicans brought
Black male suffrage before Americans, a Johnson aide said, then “we
can beat them at the next Presidential election.” Republican congress-
men and their voters were a motley crew: it included segregationists,
who were seeking to confine Black “brutes” to the South by eliminat-
ing racial discrimination; assimilationists, who wanted to humanize the
“imbruted” Blacks and eliminate racial discrimination; and a handful of
antiracists, who wanted to eliminate racial discrimination and afford
equal Blacks equal opportunities.16
Nowhere was opportunity as unequal as in work, where rural
Blacks’ desires for secure land and urban Blacks’ desires for secure jobs
hardly registered in the political discourse. Every union should pro-
mote “one dividing line—that which separates mankind into two great
classes,” said labor editor Andrew Carr Cameron at the 1867 conven-
tion of the newly founded National Labor Union (NLU). Cameron
obscured the color line in the first-ever national labor agenda. From
then on, this denial of racism allowed racist laborers to join with racist
capitalists in depressing Black wages, in shoving Black workers into
the nastiest jobs, in driving up their rates of unemployment, and in
blaming the racial disparities they helped create on Black stupidity and
e onstru ting lavery 243

African Americans and their allies tried to create their own
opportunities by establishing dozens of historically Black colleges
and universities (HBCUs) in the late 1860s. Antiracist educators and
philanthropists who viewed southern Black students as intellectually
equal to White students were almost certainly involved, but they were
not nearly as numerous or as powerful as the assimilationist educa-
tors and philanthropists. These assimilationists commonly founded
HBCUs “to educate  .  .  . a number of blacks,” and then “send them
forth to regenerate” their people, who had been degenerated by slav-
ery, as one philanthropist stated. Black and White HBCU founders
assumed New England’s Latin and Greek curriculum to be the fin-
est, and they only wanted the finest for their students. Many found-
ers assumed “white teachers” to be “the best,” as claimed in the New
York National Freedman’s Relief Association in its 1865–1866 annual
report. HBCU teachers and students worked hard to prove to segre-
gationists that Blacks could master the “high culture” of a Greco-Latin
education. But the handful of “refined,” often biracial HBCU graduates
were often dismissed as products of White blood, or as extraordinary
in comparison to the ordinarily “unrefined” poor Blacks.
Not all the HBCUs founded in the aftermath of the Civil War
adopted the liberal arts curriculum. African Americans “had three cen-
turies of experience in general demoralization and behind that, pagan-
ism,” the 1868 founder of the Hampton Institute in Virginia once said.
Samuel Chapman Armstrong, the former Union officer and Freedmen’s
Bureau official, offered teaching and vocational training that tutored
acceptance of White political supremacy and Blacks’ working-class
position in the capitalist economy. Hampton had a trade component
that aimed to work its aspiring teachers hard so that they would come
to appreciate the dignity of hard labor and go on to impress that dig-
nity—instead of resistance—onto the toiling communities where they
established schools.18
For all their submission schooling, Hampton-type HBCUs were
less likely than the Greco-Roman-oriented HBCUs to bar dark-
skinned applicants. By the end of the century, a color partition had
emerged: light-skinned Blacks tended to attend the schools with
244 tamped from the Beginning
Greco-Roman curricula, training for leadership, and darker-skinned
Blacks ended up at industrial schools, training for submission. In 1916,
one estimate found that 80 percent of the students at the HBCUs
offering a Greco-Roman education were light-skinned or biracial. The
racist colorism separating HBCUs was reflected in Black social clubs,
in housing, and in the separate churches being built. Across postwar
America, there emerged Black churches subjecting dark-skinned vis-
itors to paper-bag tests or painting their doors a light brown. People
darker than the bag or door were excluded, just as light-skinned Blacks
were excluded from White spaces.19

CONGRESS PASSED FOUR Reconstruction Acts between March 2, 1867,

and March 11, 1868, that laid the groundwork for the new state consti-
tutions and for readmission of ten of the eleven southern states into the
Union. Confederates were forced to accept Black male suffrage, while
northern Free Soilers soundly rejected Black suffrage on their ballots
in the fall of 1867. Confederates roared hypocrisy at these northern-
ers, who were “seeking to fasten what they themselves repudiate with
loathing upon the unfortunate people of the South.” Republicans strip-
ping the vote away from “respectable” southern Whites and handing
it to the “unrespectable” southern Blacks was “worse than madness,”
President Johnson said in his Third Annual Message to Congress on
December 3, 1867. “No independent government of any form has ever
been successful in [Black] hands,” he added. With voting power, Blacks
would cause “a tyranny such as this continent has never yet witnessed.”
Johnson engaged in a debate that was over before it began. Since the
very presence of Blacks was deemed to be tyrannical, racists would
only see tyranny no matter what Black voters and politicians accom-
plished in the coming years.20
During the 1868 elections, Democrats pledged to free White
southerners from the “semi-barbarous” Black male voters who longed
to “subject the white women to their unbridled lust,” as stated by a
vice presidential candidate, the fanatical Missouri politician and
Union general Francis P. Blair Jr. The Democratic platform attacked
e onstru ting lavery 245

Republicans for subjecting the South, “in time of profound peace, to
military despotism and negro supremacy.” The Ku Klux Klan, founded
originally in 1865 as a social club in Tennessee, made a charade of
the “profound peace.” With Johnson’s anti-Black military appointments
looking away, the Klan commenced a “reign of terror,” assassinating
Republicans and barring Blacks from voting.
Millions of Blacks voted for president for the first time in armed
southern Black counties that the Klan would not dare to enter, swing-
ing the 1868 presidential election to a Republican war hero, General
Ulysses S. Grant. Blacks voted into life what segregationists would
begin their struggle to kill—the Black politician. “Nigger voting, hold-
ing office, and sitting in the jury box, are all wrong,” blared Mississip-
pi’s Columbus Democrat. “Nothing is more certain to occur than these
outrages upon justice and good government will soon be removed.”21
Numerous Republican congressmen, such as Ohio’s James A. Gar-
field, were privately expressing “a strong feeling of repugnance” about
Blacks being “made our political equal.” But when these racist Republi-
cans calculated the serious advantages the “loyal” Black vote could give
them in swing states, they finally gave their support to Black suffrage.
As with the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments, these power-
ful congressmen had not been morally persuaded to open the door
to Black rights. It was about self-interests. On February 27, 1869, the
Republican-dominated Congress passed the Fifteenth Amendment to
the US Constitution. It forbade the United States and each state from
denying or abridging voting rights “on account of race, color, or pre-
vious condition of servitude.” Congress empowered itself to “enforce
this article by appropriate legislation,” but refused to go any further.
Protections for Black politicians, uniform voting requirements, and the
prohibition of race-veiled measures to exclude Blacks, however, were
Denied, too, was any serious discussion of enfranchising women.
This issue caused dissension between White and Black suffragists
at the American Equal Rights Association (AERA) meeting on May
12, 1869, weeks after Congress passed the Fifteenth Amendment. It
stung leading suffragist Susan B. Anthony to think the Constitution
246 tamped from the Beginning
had “recognized” Black men “as the political superiors of all the noble
women.” They had “just emerged from slavery,” and were “not only
totally illiterate, but also densely ignorant of every public question.”
Ironically, sexist men were using similar arguments about women’s illit-
eracy, women’s ignorance of public questions, and noble men—as the
natural political superiors of all women—to oppose Anthony’s drive
for suffrage rights.23
For instance, George Downing, a Black activist and businessman
who attended the meeting, spoke of women’s obedience being God’s
will. The AERA meeting went from bad to worse. Feminists challenged
him. Downing and other organizers of the Colored National Labor
Union (CNLU) came under fire again for this view at their found-
ing meeting later in the year. A Black woman from Downing’s home
state of Rhode Island expressed her disappointment that “poor wom-
en’s interests were not mentioned.” In the end, the CNLU admitted its
“mistakes.” It would have been wholly hypocritical for the CNLU to
refuse to address gender discrimination, after developing in reaction
to the National Labor Union’s refusal to address racial discrimination.
Then again, hypocrisy had normalized in the American reform move-
ments. Racial, gender, ethnic, and labor activists were angrily chal-
lenging the popular bigotry targeting their own groups at the same
time they were happily reproducing the popular bigotry targeting
other groups. They did not realize that the racist, sexist, ethnocentric,
and classist ideas were produced by some of the same powerful minds.
The National Labor Union welcomed Black delegates to its 1869
convention and proclaimed that it “knew neither color nor sex on the
question of the rights of labor.” Antiracists and feminists would have
preferred for the NLU to accept neither racism nor sexism on the
question of the rights of labor. But that was hardly forthcoming.24
After George Downing’s debacle, Frederick Douglass tried to
smooth things over by suggesting that AERA members support any
measure that extended “suffrage to any class heretofore disenfran-
chised, as a cheering part of the triumph of our whole idea.” Stan-
ton and Anthony rejected the resolution. Poet Frances Harper,
representing the guns of Black feminism, chastised “white women” for
e onstru ting lavery 247

only going “for sex, letting race occupy a minor position.” Sojourner
Truth had come to agree with Harper and Douglass. “If you bait the
suffrage-hook with a woman, you will certainly catch a black man,”
Truth advised, as only the Truth could. The division over the Fifteenth
Amendment dissolved the AERA and severed the suffrage movement.
The suffrage struggle limped into the 1870s and would not be resolved
for women until nearly half a century later.
If it had been left up to the first generation of Black male politicians,
women may have received voting rights in the 1870s. All six Black Mas-
sachusetts legislators, and six of seven Black US representatives from
South Carolina, for example, supported women’s suffrage. Susan B.
Anthony may have privately realized that Black men were not “densely
ignorant of every public question,” including her right to vote.25
Democrats tried to block the ratification of the Fifteenth Amend-
ment, demeaning it as a “nigger superiority bill” meant to establish
horrific and barbaric Black supremacy. They had no luck. The amend-
ment was ratified on February 3, 1870. Black people from Boston to
Richmond to Vicksburg, Mississippi, planned grand celebrations after
the ratification. For their keynote speaker, several communities invited
a living legend.26

Reconstr ucting Blame

WILLIAM LLOYD GARRISON decided to stay home and witness the mag-
nificent two-hour procession of dignitaries, especially the veterans of
the 54th and 55th Massachusetts regiments. When Garrison stepped
to the podium of Faneuil Hall at the close of the celebration of the pas-
sage of the Fifteenth Amendment, he looked older than his sixty-four
years, tired and ready to step fully out of public life. He regarded the
Fifteenth Amendment as a “miracle.” The members of the American
Anti-Slavery Society, meanwhile, felt that their work was finished.
They officially disbanded on April 9, 1870.
“The Fifteenth Amendment confers upon the African race the care
of its own destiny. It places their fortunes in their own hands,” imag-
ined Ohio congressman James A. Garfield. An Illinois newspaper pro-
claimed, “The negro is now a voter and a citizen. Let him hereafter
takes his chances in the battle of life.”1
The passage of the Fifteenth Amendment caused Republicans to
turn their backs on the struggle against racial discrimination. After
refusing to redistribute land, and giving landless Blacks the ability to
choose their own masters, and calling that freedom; after handing
poor Blacks an equal rights statement they could use in the expensive
courts, and calling that equality; they put the ballot in the Black man’s
hand and called that security. “The ballot is the citadel of the colored
man’s safety,” parodied one Black southerner, “the guarantor of his lib-
erty, the protector of his rights, the defender of his immunities and
privileges, the savior of the fruits of his toil, his weapon of offense and

e onstru ting Blame 249

defense, his peacemaker, his Nemesis that watches and guards over
him with sleepless eye by day and by night.” As this Black southerner
knew so well, the ballot never did stop all those hooded night riders.2
Klan violence was needed to “keep the niggers in their place,”
explained Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest, the Klan’s first
honorary “Grand Wizard.” To the Klan, the only thing worse than a
Negro was “a white Radical.” But the worst offender was a suspected
Black rapist of a White woman. Klansmen glorified White womanhood
as the epitome of honor and purity (and asexuality) and demeaned
Black womanhood as the epitome of immorality and filth (and sex).
Some Black men demeaned Black women, too. “Lord, sar!” said a pros-
perous Black Kansan. “You not think I marry a black nigger wench?”
Klansmen religiously believed that Blacks possessed supernatural
sexual powers, and this belief fueled their sexual attraction to Black
women and their fear of White women being attracted to Black men.
It became almost standard operating procedure to justify Klan terror-
ism by maintaining that southern White supremacy was necessary to
defend the purity of White women. Black women’s bodies, in contrast,
were regarded as a “training ground” for White men, or a stabilizing
“safety valve” for White men’s “sexual energies” that allowed the vener-
ation of the asexual pureness of White womanhood to continue.3
The other threat to White male dominance was upwardly mobile
Black people. Klan terrorism showed the charade that was always the
strategy of uplift suasion. The Klan did “not like to see the negro go
ahead,” reported a White Mississippian. Landless Blacks were terror-
ized by landowners. Landowning Blacks were terrorized by the Klan.
In March 1870, President Grant sent to Congress documentary evi-
dence of more than 5,000 cases of White terrorism. Between May
1870 and April 1871, Congress passed three poorly funded Enforce-
ment Acts that dispatched election supervisors to the South, crim-
inalized interference with Black voting, and turned a wide range of
Klan-type terrorist acts into federal offenses. As a result, the Klan had
“nominally dissolved” by 1871, but the train of terror still rushed down
the tracks under new names. It became clear to all, as a northern trans-
plant explained, that only “steady, unswerving power from without”
250 tamped from the Beginning
could guarantee peace and the survival of southern Republicanism. A
steady, unswerving Black power from within could have done so, too,
but Republicans remained unwilling to fortify Blacks with Buffalo Sol-
diers and land.4
The vote was supposed to make miracles, and in some ways it did.
Southern constitutional conventions from 1867 to 1869 were a revolu-
tionary sight to behold. They included northern transplants, southern
Republicans, and southern Black delegates, about half of whom had
been born in slavery. For all their lack of political experience, wealth,
and schooling—or rather because of it—these delegates produced
alluringly democratic constitutions. They instituted the South’s first
publicly funded educational systems, penitentiaries, orphanages, and
insane asylums; expanded women’s rights and guaranteed Black rights;
reduced the number of crimes; and reorganized local governments
to eliminate dictatorships. Initially, however, Black politicians usually
stepped aside when the positions of power were divided up because
they did not want to lend credibility to persistent Democratic charges
of “black supremacy,” as if the charge had some logic to it.
While Blacks rarely benefited from Reconstruction’s economic
policies, growing corporations did. Facing war-torn communities and
treasuries, the same Reconstruction politicians who refused to hand
out land and aid to landless Blacks, on the pretext that it would ruin
them, handed millions out to railroad companies, on the pretext that
railroads would develop the South by bringing new jobs, factories, and
towns; allow for transport of untapped minerals; and extend agricul-
ture. By 1872, most of the South only had debt and poverty to show
for the incredible amounts of welfare handed out to railroad corpora-
tions. Bribed politicians happily gave away these funds. Only a small
number of Black politicians sat in senior positions of power, and thus
their share of the corruption paled in comparison to that of White
Every dollar taken from southern treasuries heightened southern
reliance on cheap labor. President Grant figured that maybe if Blacks
had somewhere else to go, planters would value Black labor more.
(Actually, planters did value cheap labor, and they used their guns and
e onstru ting Blame 251

racist ideas to keep Black labor as cheap as possible.) In early 1870,
Grant began a presidential push for the annexation of the Dominican
Republic to provide a haven for “the entire colored population of the
United States, should it choose to emigrate.” He sent Frederick Doug-
lass on a fact-finding mission in 1871. The DR could not only become
a Black haven, the impressed Douglass reported, but by “transplant-
ing within her tropical borders the glorious institutions” of the United
States, the Blacks who moved there could uplift the impoverished and
backward Dominican people. Douglass seemed unaware that he was
recycling against Dominicans the very same racist ideas that had been
used against African Americans. And if the US institutions were so
“glorious,” then why did African Americans need a foreign haven?6
Assimilationists like Douglass encouraged American expansion,
while segregationists and antiracists discouraged it, bringing the ongo-
ing racial dispute into foreign policy. The US Senate voted down the
annexation treaty in June 1871. Tired of Grant’s preoccupation with
annexation, and his openness to using federal power to protect south-
ern Black lives, Republican dissidents broke away. In May 1872, New
York Tribune editor Horace Greeley and Illinois senator Lyman Trum-
bull, central forces in the passage of the Reconstruction Amendments,
headlined an assembly of “Liberal Republicans” in Cincinnati. “Recon-
struction and slavery we have done with,” declared E. L. Godkin,
the editor of The Nation, speaking for the Liberal Republicans. They
pledged amnesty and voting rights for ex-Confederates, the end of
federal southern intervention, welfare for the rich in the form of tax
breaks, and nothing for the poor.7
Greeley emerged as their presidential candidate. The arch-enemy
of the Confederacy became the arch-friend of the Confederacy, sim-
ilar to the nation’s most famous preacher, whom Frederick Douglass
sarcastically called the “apostle of forgiveness.” Seeking to reunite
White northerners and southerners through Christian Whiteness,
Henry Ward Beecher published the first American biography of Jesus,
The Life of Jesus, the Christ, in 1871. “There is absolutely nothing to deter-
mine the personal appearance of Jesus,” wrote Harriet Beecher Stowe’s
brother. And yet Beecher included in the book five depictions of the
252 tamped from the Beginning
perfect God-man named Jesus, and they all depicted a White man.
Henry Ward Beecher gave White Americans a model for embedding
Whiteness into their religious worldviews of Jesus Christ without ever
saying so out loud, just as southern and northern Whites were doing
with their political worldviews. It went without saying for racists that
White people were the best equipped to rule the United States under
the heavenly guidance of the White Father and Son.8
Horace Greeley had long been associated with emancipation and
equality, but he made himself over in order to campaign as the Demo-
cratic candidate for president in 1872. “Political equality is far off,” he
lectured Blacks. “Social equality will remain forever out of reach. Don’t
expect free gifts of land. Segregate yourself; employ each other. Who
are your best friends?—Sound, conservative, knowing white Southern-
ers.” These “knowing white Southerners” made it known to Black people,
as one South Carolinian observed, that “to vote against the wishes of
their white employers and neighbors was to risk death.” Congress issued
a report in the spring of 1872 condemning southern violence, but it only
went so far. The report even adopted the segregationists’ position, argu-
ing that Blacks were the cause. The violence, the report explained, was a
response to the “bad legislation, official incompetency, and corruption”
of Black politicians. It hardly mattered that southern White politicians
sat in the overwhelming majority of the powerful and corruptible posi-
tions. The truth hardly mattered to the producers of these racist ideas
who were seeking to defend the racist policies of buckling Black political
power. Grant’s former secretary of the interior, Jacob Cox, said south-
erners could “only be governed through the part of the community that
embodies the intelligence and the capital.” The Nation put it more bluntly:
Reconstruction had “totally failed.”9
Enough Blacks and Republican Whites risked death to win most
of the South and President Grant’s reelection in 1872. On southern
streets, armed Republicans had to defend their reelected politicians.
In Colfax, Louisiana, sixty-one armed Blacks barricaded themselves
inside a courthouse on Easter Sunday, 1873. Democrats shelled the
courthouse with artillery, snatched out the thirty-seven survivors,
and executed them in the town square. The day after the Colfax
e onstru ting Blame 253

Massacre, the US Supreme Court, including Grant’s four corporate
lawyer appointees, massacred the civil rights protections of the Four-
teenth Amendment in the Slaughterhouse Cases. White New Orleans
butchers felt their economic “privileges and immunities” were being
denied by the bribe-instigated 1869 Louisiana statute requiring them
to do business at the Slaughterhouse Company. Writing for the major-
ity, Justice Samuel Miller upheld the monopoly on April 14, 1873, dis-
tinguishing between national and state citizenship and citing Roger B.
Taney’s Dred Scott opinion. The Fourteenth Amendment only protected
the relatively few rights of national citizens, Miller stated. Three
years later, this doctrinaire split between national and state citizen-
ship allowed a unanimous Supreme Court to reverse the convictions
of the perpetrators of the Colfax Massacre (murder prosecutions “rests
alone with the States”), thus giving Louisiana the freedom to exonerate
them. The Court also voided the Enforcement Acts and encouraged
White terrorist organizations just in time for the election of 1876.10
None of the four Slaughterhouse dissenters objected to the most
far-reaching part of Justice Miller’s majority opinion: “We doubt very
much whether any action of a state not directed by way of discrimina-
tion against the negroes as a class, or on account of their race, will ever
come within the purview of this provision.” To this day, the Supreme
Court still uses Miller’s doctrine to shield private and race-veiled dis-
criminators, those who veil policies intended to discriminate against
Black people by not using racial language.11
Neither ex-Confederates voting again nor the Slaughterhouse ruling
could compare to the destructive force of the Panic of 1873. It was the
first major economic depression of American industrial capitalism and
lasted the rest of the decade. Southern Democrats declared their ability
to restore order, just as the oil man John D. Rockefeller and the steel
man Andrew Carnegie declared their ability to monitor their indus-
tries. By the end of the century, the Rockefeller and Carnegie monopo-
lies reflected the White political monopolies steering the South.
As the poorest of the poor, southern Blacks were the most dev-
astated of the devastated by the Panic of 1873. The Panic halted the
modest postwar ascent of Black landowners, snatching their land and
254 tamped from the Beginning
their freedom. When legions of small White landowners lost their
land, too, they felt as if they were losing their Whiteness and freedom.
Whites “must have small plots of land,” one planter complained, “and
prefer tending them, poor as may be the return, to lowering them-
selves, as they think it, by hiring to another.”12
Holding out hope for redistributed land as long as they could,
rural southern Blacks walked backward into sharecropping, meaning
they handed the landowner a share of the crop as payment for the
ability to farm there. Crooked landowners maneuvered sharecroppers
into debt, and laws prevented sharecroppers from leaving landown-
ers to whom they owed money. Blacks who were able to leave a bad
situation took to the road, looking endlessly for ethical landowners.
Landowners called this annual movement a sign of Black shiftlessness.
Stuck between racist policies and ideas, sharecroppers could not win.
Staying often meant servitude, but leaving meant shiftlessness.13
Nothing seemed to dent racist ideas, not even upwardly mobile
urban Blacks. In 1874, Nashville’s White-owned Republican Banner
praised the “thrifty and cleanly” Blacks. But they could not “be taken
as the representative of the indolent and shiftless hundreds of thou-
sands,” the Banner opined. They were extraordinary.14

BY THE EARLY 1870s, given the snatching away from Blacks’ civil rights,
William Lloyd Garrison had no choice but to make his voice heard
once again. He ridiculed the abandonment of Reconstruction in essay
after essay in The Independent, and in open letter after open letter in the
Boston Journal. Vice President Henry Wilson complained to Garrison of
a “Counter-Revolution” overtaking Reconstruction. “Our Anti-slavery
veterans must again speak out,” Wilson urged. Some failed to speak
out because they were too busy blaming Black people for the failures
of Reconstruction. And how could they not? Northern press reports
regularly depicted Black voters and politicians as self-destructively
stupid and corrupt. The Associated Press relied on anti-Black, anti-Re-
construction southern papers for daily dispatches. New York Tribune
reporter James S. Pike blanketed northerners with racist fairytales
e onstru ting Blame 255

of corrupt, incompetent, lazy Black politicians who conquered and
deprived White South Carolinians during the “tragedy” of Recon-
struction. These claims were published in his widely circulated news-
paper articles in 1873, republished as The Prostrate State, South Carolina
Under Negro Government in 1874. Pike’s Democratic sources were happy
to blame the southern corruption on Black people, as it diverted atten-
tion from their principal role in the corruption. Pike’s well-written

novel passed as eyewitness journalism. “In the place of this old aristo-
cratic society stands the rude form of the most ignorant democracy
that mankind ever saw,” Pike wrote. “It is barbarism overwhelming civ-
ilization” and “the slave rioting in the halls of his master, and putting
that master under his feet.”15
The Prostrate State caused pro-Reconstruction periodicals—Scribner’s,
Harper’s, The Nation, and The Atlantic Monthly—to pummel Black legisla-
tors even more and demand a national reunion of White rule. A New
York Democrat read from The Prostrate State on the House floor. Where’s
your book on New York corruption? asked Black South Carolina con-
gressman Robert Small. Though the bribers and the bribed knew cor-
ruption was a national affair, primarily among White politicians, racist
ideas never did quite subscribe to the magazine of reality. Black cor-
ruption was a ready-made excuse to abandon the increasingly difficult,
expensive, disordering, and divisive Reconstruction policies. Every time
Grant’s administration intervened to protect Black lives, he alienated
northern and southern Whites from the Republican Party. During the
1874 midterm elections, Democrats knocked Republicans out of con-
trol of the House of Representatives and out of power in every south-
ern state except Mississippi, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Florida.
White terrorist organizations warred with armed and unarmed Black
voters across the South. President Grant had to send troops to prevent
an army of 3,500 Democrats from forcing out elected Republicans in
New Orleans in September 1874. Wendell Phillips was jeered off a Bos-
ton stage for trying to defend Grant. The New York Times reported that
“Wendell Phillips and William Lloyd Garrison are not exactly extinct
from American politics, but they represent ideas in regard to the South
which the majority of the Republican party have outgrown.”16
256 tamped from the Beginning
The final bill of Radical Reconstruction was pushed through
Congress in early 1875 before the new Democrats took office.
The Civil Rights Act of 1875 was a legislative memorial to Senator
Charles Sumner, who died in 1874 after decades in the antislavery and
civil rights trenches. The bill outlawed racial discrimination in jury
selection, public transportation, and public accommodations, but it
required Blacks to seek redress in the expensive and hostile courts.
The bill hardly stopped the terror campaign against Mississippi’s Black
voters that allowed Democrats to gain state control in the fall 1875
election. Mississippi’s embattled Republican governor, Adelbert Ames,
declared that “a revolution is taking place—by force of arms—and a
race are disenfranchised—they are to be returned to a condition of
serfdom—an era of second slavery.” A southern newspaper declared
that the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments “may stand forever;
but we intend . . . to make them dead letters.”17
With Reconstruction of southern democracy on life support, the
United States celebrated the one hundredth anniversary of the Decla-
ration of Independence. From May to November 1876, roughly one-
fifth of the US population attended the first of the official “world fairs,”
Philadelphia’s Centennial Exposition. “A band of old-time plantation
‘darkies’” singing songs at the Southern Restaurant was the only dis-
play depicting Black people. In Boston, William Lloyd Garrison gave
an Independence Day address for the ages. The shift in public opinion
away from Reconstruction was the consequence of emancipating Black
people as a military necessity rather than as “an act of general repen-
tance,” he said. In his last major public speech, Garrison recognized
racist ideas as the core of the problem. “We must give up the spirit of
complexional caste,” Garrison declared, “or give up Christianity.”18
In Hamburg, South Carolina, the local Black militia celebrated
the July 4 centennial with a parade. Area racists hated the militia for
maintaining Blacks’ ability to control the majority Black town. During
the parade, harsh words were exchanged when a local White farmer
ordered militia members to move aside for his carriage. The farmer
appealed to former Confederate general Matthew C. Butler, the area’s
most powerful Democrat. On July 8, Butler and a small posse ordered
e onstru ting Blame 257

the militia head, Union Army veteran Dock Adams, to disarm the
Hamburg militia. Adams refused, and fighting broke out. The militia-
men retreated to their armory. Butler dashed off for nearby Augusta,
but returned with hundreds of reinforcements and cannon. Butler’s
contingent executed five militiamen and looted and destroyed the
undefended homes and shops of Hamburg.
When southerners complained of their lost cause, an appalled
President Grant realized they were complaining of their lost freedom
“to kill negroes and Republicans without fear of punishment and with-
out loss of caste or reputations.” General Butler made a mockery of
the congressional investigation, capitalizing on the attention by being
elected to the US Senate in 1877. He blamed the massacre on innate
Black criminality. Blacks, he said, possessed “little regard for human
General Butler was invoking Blacks’ natural proclivity for violence
and criminality to avoid punishment for the massacre he had carried
out. But hardly any congressional investigators questioned his motive
for expressing these racist ideas, which at the time were being codified
by a prison doctor in Italy. Cesare Lombroso “proved” in 1876 that
non-White men loved to kill, “mutilate the corpse, tear its flesh and
drink its blood.” His Criminal Man gave birth to the discipline of crim-
inology in 1876. Criminals were born, not bred, Lombroso said. He
believed that born criminals emitted physical signs that could be stud-
ied, measured, and quantified, and that the “inability to blush”—and
therefore, dark skin—had “always been considered the accompani-
ment of crime.” Black women, in their close “degree of differentiation
from the male,” he claimed in The Female Offender in 1895, were the pro-
totypical female criminals. As White terrorists brutalized, raped, and
killed people in communities around the Black world, the first crop of
Western criminologists were intent on giving criminals a Black face
and the well-behaved citizen a White face. Lombroso’s student, Italian
law professor Raffaele Garofalo, invented the term “criminology” (crim-
inologia) in 1885. British physician Havelock Ellis popularized Lom-
broso in the English-speaking world, publishing a compendium of his
writings in 1890.20
258 tamped from the Beginning
The Hamburg perpetrators kept shouting: “This is the begin-
ning of the redemption of South!” Indeed, it was. When the election
of 1876 came in November, it was war at the polls, and Democrats
stuffed ballot boxes across the South. By the morning of November
8, 1876, Democratic New York governor Samuel J. Tilden and Repub-
lican Ohio governor Rutherford B. Hayes were virtually tied in the
electoral college. The presidential election’s outcome rested in the
contested election returns of Louisiana and South Carolina. When a
fifteen-member electoral commission handed Republicans the presi-
dency, Democrats were outraged. In early 1877, both parties, and both
regions, began planning for another Civil War.
The parties and regions remained united on one issue. Blacks must
quell their “new kindled ambition” and recognize their lack of Whites’
“hereditary faculty of self government,” said former Ohio governor
Jacob D. Cox. Outgoing president Grant privately told his cabinet that
giving Black men the ballot had been a mistake, and so did Republican
presidential hopeful Rutherford B. Hayes. While a consensus formed
on who should govern the South, division intensified over who should
govern in Washington, DC.
The nation on the brink, Hayes’s representatives met with Dem-
ocrats at the Wormly House, a hotel owned by the capital’s richest
African American. No one ever revealed the exact terms of the “Bar-
gain of 1877.” But Democrats handed Republican Rutherford B. Hayes
the presidency, while Hayes ended Reconstruction for the Democrats.
Hayes recognized the stolen Democratic governments in Louisiana
and South Carolina. He withdrew federal troops from the South
and used those troops to crush the Great Strike of 1877. (As capital
regained control of labor, the Knights of Labor materialized as the
principal national labor organization. Knights head Terence V. Pow-
derly demanded unions’ desegregation to control the competition. He
considered Blacks a “lazy” reservoir of “cheap labor” that could easily
be used against White labor.)21
The Nation made the Bargain of 1877 plain. The time had come
for “the negro to disappear from the field of national politics,” said the
e onstru ting Blame 259

newsmagazine. “Henceforth, the nation, as a nation, will have nothing
more do with him.” Meanwhile, William Lloyd Garrison labeled the
Bargain “an abomination” amounting to the old “covenant with death.”
When troops departed Shreveport, Louisiana, a Black man grieved
about his people being back in “the hands of the very men that held
[them] as slaves,” so that “there was no way on earth they could better
[their] condition.”22
“Not one single right enjoyed by the colored people shall be taken
from them,” pledged the new Democratic South Carolina governor,
Wade Hampton. “As the negro becomes more intelligent,” Hampton
added, “he naturally allies himself with the more conservative whites,
for his observation and experience both show him that his interests
are identified with those of the white race here.” Hampton opened
two doors for Blacks in post-Reconstruction South Carolina: naturally
submissive intelligence, or naturally rebellious stupidity.23
The Reconstruction era—the dozen or so years following the end
of the Civil War in 1865—had been a horrific time for southern White
men like Wade Hampton who were used to ruling their Black people
and their women. They faced and beat back with violence and violent
ideas a withering civil rights and Black empowerment movement—
as well as a powerful women’s movement that failed to grab as many
headlines. But their supposed underlings did not stop rebelling after
the fall of Reconstruction. To intimidate and reassert their control
over rebellious Blacks and White women, White male redeemers took
up lynching in the 1880s. Someone was lynched, on average, every
four days from 1889 to 1929. Often justifying the ritualistic slaughters
on a false rumor that the victim had raped a White woman, White
men, women, and children gathered to watch the torture, killing, and
dismemberment of human beings—all the while calling the victims
savages. Hate fueled the lynching era. But behind this hatred lay racist
ideas that had evolved to question Black freedoms at every stage. And
behind these racist ideas were powerful White men, striving by word
and deed to regain absolute political, economic, and cultural control
of the South.24
260 tamped from the Beginning
SOUTHERN BLACK PEOPLE felt a range of emotions as they trekked from
slavery to war to emancipation to Radical Reconstruction to Black
Redemption to White Redemption. Their feelings seem to have resem-
bled the range of emotions a parent might feel living through the excit-
ing birth, hopeful growth, and tragic death of a beloved child. Some
Blacks, angry over Reconstruction’s demise, felt the need to run away
from their second slavery. “It is impossible for us to live with these
slaveholders of the South,” said one Louisiana organizer, represent-
ing more than 60,000 “hard-laboring people” eager to flee the South.
Resettlement to Africa or the North or far West was not nearly as
popular in the late 1870s as the “Exodus” to Kansas. The “Exodusters”
ignored the opposition of Frederick Douglass and increased Kansas’s
Black population by 150 percent. Northern allies did all they could
to fund-raise for Exodusters. William Lloyd Garrison, at seventy-four

years old, exhausted himself raising money for hundreds of Black Exo-
dusters fleeing Mississippi and Louisiana.
On April 24, 1879, Garrison had hoped to address a rally for the
Exodusters at Boston’s Faneuil Hall, but he was too weak to attend.
Still, he made sure his voice was heard, sending a reverberating state-
ment. “Let the edict go forth, trumpet-tongued, that there shall be a
speedy end put to all this bloody misrule; that the millions of loyal
colored citizens at the South, now under ban and virtually disfran-
chised, shall be put in the safe enjoyment of their rights—shall freely
vote and be fairly represented—just where they are located. And let
the rallying-cry be heard from the Atlantic to the Pacific coast, ‘Lib-
erty and equal rights for each, for all, and forever, wherever the lot of
man is cast without our broad domains!’” He had hoped for immediate
emancipation when all hope had been lost. He now hoped for imme-
diate equality when all hope had been lost. The thrilling statement
of hope on April 24, 1879, proved to be the last will and testament of
William Lloyd Garrison. Four weeks later, he was dead.25

W. E. B. Du Bois

Renewing the South

“THE SLAVE WENT FREE; stood a brief moment in the sun; then moved
back again towards slavery.” W. E. B. Du Bois had lived almost seven
decades before he gave this classic summation of the Reconstruction
era. He was born under the sun on February 23, 1868, the day before
the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson. While Garrison
applauded Johnson’s impeachment from the eastern end of Massachu-
setts, “Willie” Du Bois came into being on the western end of Massa-
chusetts in the small town of Great Barrington. He grew up between
two encircling mountain ranges: the Berkshires to the east and the
Taconic chain to the west, assimilationist ideas to the north and segre-
gationist ideas to the south.1
Mary Silvina Burghardt raised Willie. Alfred Duboise, Wil-
lie’s Franco-Haitian father, had left his wife and child for Connecti-
cut by 1870. Burghardt became the single mother of two boys. She
had already birthed the only out-of-wedlock child in recent family
memory, Willie’s older half-brother, Adelbert. In a way, Burghardt
resembled Garrison’s mother, Frances Maria Lloyd, who had defied
her family, lived on the social edge, married a rover, and, after being
deserted and devastated, poured what was left of herself into her chil-
dren. And their prized youngest sons wanted nothing more than to
make their distressed mothers happy.
Willie gleaned his first sense of racial difference on an interra-
cial playground at ten years old in 1878. The exchange of “gorgeous
visiting-cards . . . was merry, till one girl, a tall newcomer, refused my
264 tamped from the Beginning
card—refused it peremptorily, with a glance. Then it dawned upon
me with a certain suddenness that I was different from the others,”
he later wrote. From then on, Willie Du Bois fiercely competed with
his White peers in the game of uplift suasion, in an attempt to prove
“to the world that Negroes were just like other people.” He would go
on to hike and reach the summit of the European intellectual world.
However, he did not like what he saw when he reached the top.2

IN THE 1870 S and 1880s, no matter what Willie and other young Blacks
like him achieved in school and in life, they were not changing the
minds of the discriminators. The discriminators were subscribing to
Social Darwinism and to the idea that Blacks were losing the racial
struggle for existence. For ages, enslavers had pictured Black people
as physically hardy, hardy enough to survive the heat of southern
enslavement. With emancipation, racist ideas progressed to suit this
new world. Discriminators started picturing Blacks as weak, too weak
to survive in freedom, beings that desperately needed to learn to be
strong without their masters and government assistance.3
In 1883, the US Supreme Court declared the Civil Rights Act
of 1875 unconstitutional. Civil rights activists loudly protested the
funeral of the Reconstruction era, but not loud enough for a fifteen-
year-old lad in Great Barrington. Willie Du Bois launched his publish-
ing career, complaining about local indifference to the Court ruling
in T. Thomas Fortune’s immensely popular Black newspaper, the New
York Globe.4
Drowning out the young Willies and the older Fortunes in 1883,
the united North and South hailed the decision to trash the 1875 Civil
Rights Act. The New York Times applauded the Supreme Court’s “useful
purpose in . . . undoing the work of Congress.” In the majority opin-
ion, Justice Joseph Bradley wrote that the Thirteenth and Fourteenth
Amendments did not bestow on Congress any power to prohibit dis-
crimination in privately run public accommodations, but only “state
action” that denied equal protection of the laws. “When a man has
emerged from slavery and with the aid of beneficent legislation has
enewing the outh 265

shaken off the inseparable concomitants of that state,” Bradley con-
cluded, “there must be some stage in the progress of his elevation
when he takes the rank of a mere citizen, and ceases to be a special
favorite of the laws, and when his rights . . . are to be protected in the
ordinary modes by which other men’s rights are protected.” A mere
citizen without special favors protected in the ordinary modes? Did
Justice Bradley not understand that Black people only wanted to be
mere citizens? Did Justice Bradley not understand that their rights
were not being protected from planters and Klansmen?5
Maybe the New York–born Bradley was indeed in the dark, espe-
cially if he believed the optimistic propaganda of what was being billed
as the “New South.” Atlanta Constitution editor Henry W. Grady was the
chief propagandist of the New South in the 1880s. “The friendliness
that existed between the master and slave . . . has survived war, and
strife, and political campaigns,” Grady imagined. Methodist bishop
and Emory College president Atticus Haygood also marketed the New
South in speeches across the country, and in his popular 1881 book,
Our Brother in Black. The “great majority of the slaves did truly love the
white people,” Haygood presumed. White enslavers taught them labor
habits, English, the principles of free institutions, and Christianity.
Whites must continue the elevating legacy of slavery in a nicely segre-
gated free labor society, Haygood instructed. How could wise Whites
teach unwise Blacks if the races were separated? Haygood disregarded
the contradiction.6
But an Episcopal bishop, Thomas U. Dudley, could not. He
opposed racial “separation” because it would mean “continued and
increasing degradation and decay” for Blacks. Their hope for salvation
must come from association [with White people],” Dudley stressed. A
famous New Orleans novelist of prewar Creole life, George Washing-
ton Cable, also challenged these New South segregationists, inviting
their wrath. In April 1885, Grady issued his “official” reply in Century
Magazine to Cable and other assimilationist and antiracist critics: “The
assortment of races is wise and proper, and stands on the platform of
equal accommodations for each race but separate.” With that state-
ment, Grady birthed the New South’s defense of racial segregation.
266 tamped from the Beginning
The system of separation had been created to ensure racial inequality,
yet Grady propagated the notion that it was intended to ensure racial
equality and bring racial progress. Truth never did stop the concocters
of racist ideas. Grady had a separate-but-equal brand to invent, to
defend, and to sell to the American mind. And millions of Americans
bought it in the 1880s.7
In buying this New South, Americans had adopted a new tool for
blaming racial disparities on Black people: faith in racial progress (and
ignoring the simultaneous progression of racism). It was being taught
that American slavery had developed those backward people who had
been brought over from the wilds of Africa. Northern missionaries
and New South stalwarts, it was said, were developing those backward
people who were now freed from the wilds of slavery. And the Recon-
struction Amendments, claimed the proponents of the New South, had
indeed lessened racial discrimination and brought on equal opportu-
nity. All this racist propaganda coalesced into an indelible postwar faith
in racial progress, specifically, that “prejudice against color is slowly
but surely dying out,” as a Philadelphia newspaper reported in 1888.
An aversion “to industry and frugality”—not discrimination— caused
the socioeconomic disparities between the races, the newspaper stated.
“Racial progress” became the most powerful racist rejoinder to anti-
racists, who were still pointing out discrimination and disparities. The
New South really became the New America of racial progress.8
Social Darwinists, conjuring Black regression since slavery, and
Confederate holdovers of the Old South rejected the New South’s
racial progress brand and the separate-but-equal formulation. The
Reverend Robert L. Dabney, one of southern Presbyterianism’s most
influential intellectuals and an old Confederate Army chaplain, argued
that only enslavement could provide Black people with a civilizing
education. Lawyer-turned-writer Thomas Nelson Page spent his writ-
ing career sharply contrasting what he considered the hard, indus-
trializing capitalism and the disobedient African of the New South
with the soft, agricultural capitalism and the obedient African of the
Old South. Through his short story collection In Ole Virginia, or Marse
Chan and Others (1887), Page pioneered the postwar plantation school
enewing the outh 267

of fiction—a carbon copy of the prewar idyllic plantation fiction—
reimagining his lovely childhood days surrounded by happy captives
on his Virginia plantation. And then, in 1889, the most popular anti–
New South book appeared, The Plantation Negro as a Freeman. Harvard
alumnus Philip Alexander Bruce, Page’s brother-in-law, claimed that
Black people, “cut off” from their civilizing White masters, had degen-
erated back into the “African type,” leading to “bold and forward”
Black women advancing on White men, Black male criminals raping
White women (compelling White men to lynch them), and Black par-
ents producing problem children who were “less inclined to work.”9

AS A TEENAGER, Willie Du Bois had dreamed of going to Harvard. Char-

itable local Whites, unwilling to send their town’s extraordinary Negro
to the nation’s best historically White college, raised funds in 1885 to
send him to the nation’s best historically Black college: Fisk Univer-
sity of Nashville. Controlled by White philanthropists and instructors,
Fisk was one of the nation’s preeminent factories of uplift suasion and
assimilationist ideas. Du Bois consumed these ideas like his peers and
started reproducing them when he became the editor of Fisk’s stu-
dent newspaper, The Herald. In one of his published pieces, he eagerly
reviewed the first full-length history of African Americans, George
Washington Williams’s History of the Negro Race in America from 1619 to
1880. “At last,” Du Bois rejoiced, Black people “have a historian”!10
Other reviews of the book, which was first released in 1883, were
also favorable. But one critique from the Magazine of American History—
saying that Williams was “not sufficiently restrained”—signified the
conundrum that many Black revisionist scholars would face in future
decades. When Black revisionists chose not to revise, then they seem-
ingly allowed racist studies excluding or denigrating Blacks to stand for
truth. When they did revise racist scholarship, they apparently lacked
objectivity. Only White scholars apparently could be “sufficiently
restrained” to write on race: only racist studies reflected scholarly truth.11
Williams’s major antiracist (and sexist) historical revision had been
to show that Black (male) Americans had played an integral part in US
268 tamped from the Beginning
history. He challenged the racist ideas of scholars arguing that Black
people had regressed since slavery with his own racist ideas of the
“weak Black man” and the “strong Black woman.” Williams liberally
cited from the 1864 tract Savage Africa. “If the women of Africa are
brutal,” he wrote, “the men of Africa are feminine.” According to Wil-
liams’s assimilationist reading of history, freedom had facilitated Black
adoption of civilized values and norms, of “better and purer traits of
character.” Black women “have risen to take their places in society.”
Black men were again becoming “enduring in affection, and benevo-
lent to a fault.”12
Du Bois embraced Williams’s History and seemed to have been
influenced by the book’s assimilationist ideas and gender racism. In
his Fisk graduation speech in June 1888, Du Bois offered the founder
and first chancellor of Germany, Otto von Bismarck, as a model for
Black leadership. Bismarck was well known for bringing together doz-
ens of communities to form the mighty Germany in 1871. Du Bois said
that Bismarck’s Second Reich “should serve as a model for African-

Americans ‘marching forth with strength and determination under
trained leadership.’” He did not mind that Bismarck had hosted the
Berlin Conference in 1885, where European colonizers had partitioned
Africa on the dishonest pretext that they were bringing civilization
to the continent. “I did not understand at all, nor had my history
courses led me to understand,” he later admitted, that colonialism had
so viciously exploited African raw materials and labor. “I was blithely
European and imperialistic in outlook.”13
After Fisk, Du Bois was able to pursue his dream to attend Har-
vard. He left for the North in 1888 at a time when racist southern-
ers were calmly debating two paths for the Negro—Should they be
carefully civilized, or rigidly segregated from Whites? As the New
South Democrats tried to hold off Jim Crow Democrats, Republicans
regained the President’s House and Congress in the 1888 elections.
In his First Message to Congress in 1889, President Benjamin Harri-
son asked, “When is [the Negro] in fact to have those full civil rights
which have so long been his in law?”14
Never—as far as Jim Crow segregationists were concerned.

Southern Horrors
SOUTH CAROLINA SENATOR Matthew Butler and Alabama senator and for-
mer Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon John Tyler Morgan introduced a con-
gressional bill on January 7, 1890, to fund Black emigration to Africa. It
was an ingenious solution to the class and racial problems of big south-
ern landowners. Withering under a southern agricultural depression,
many White “dirt farmers” were raging against the Black farmers; others
were joining with Blacks to rage against White landowners in the rising
interracial, antiracist populist movement. The colonization bill was a
deflective measure. It pointed White farmers to southern Blacks—and
not rich White landowners—as the chief cause of the southern agrarian
depression. White farmers could easily see how the mass ejection of
southern Blacks would increase their own labor value.1
Americans were probably more open to colonization in 1890 than
at any time since Abraham Lincoln’s urgings during the Civil War.
Caribbean-born Liberian diplomat Edward Wilmot Blyden was tour-
ing the United States proclaiming that African Americans had been
schooled and preserved by slavery for their divine mission to redeem
Africa. “God has a way of salting as well as purifying by fire,” Blyden
wrote in the American Colonization Society’s journal in 1890. The
writings of Henry Morton Stanley, the nineteenth century’s most
famous English-speaking explorer of Africa, were in mass circula-
tion. Nearly every English speaker interested in Africa read Stanley’s
Through the Dark Continent (1878), and nearly everyone who read Stan-
ley came away viewing African people as savages, including novelist

270 tamped from the Beginning
Joseph Conrad, who authored the classic Heart of Darkness in 1899. The
White character’s journey up the Congo River “was like traveling back
to the earliest beginning of the world”—not back in chronological
time, but back in evolutionary time.2
In his January 1890 speech before the Senate to push the coloniza-
tion bill, John Tyler Morgan read from Henry Morgan Stanley. Under
White tutelage, African Americans had been civilized to a level from
which they could now pull Africa out of the depths of barbarism, Mor-
gan said. He hoped that potential Black emigrants would “be as kind
and patient and generous towards their own kindred as we [White
southerners] have been to them.” Although millions of American cit-
izens supported the bill, the austere opposition held the day, and it
never became law.3
Watching this colonization debate unfold only emboldened a
zealous Democrat in Omaha, Nebraska. Walter Vaughan, the son of
Alabama slaveholders, believed that his scheme would benefit the “tat-
tered condition” of the emancipated people who, in his mind, had been
well cared for during slavery. The business owner proposed that the
federal government provide pensions for ex-slaves (who would then
spend their money buying things from struggling White southern
businesses). Vaughan convinced his congressman, Republican William
J. Connell, to introduce the ex-slave pension bill in 1890. With Freder-
ick Douglass as one of the few supportive Black elites, the reparations
bill died a quiet death.
And yet, Vaughan continued to press for ex-slave pensions. He
published the pamphlet Freedmen’s Pension Bill: A Plea for American Freed-
men, and soon, 10,000 worn copies of it were being passed from hand
to hand in poor Black communities in the South and Midwest. Callie
House, an ex-slave and washerwoman in Tennessee, came across the
pamphlet in 1891, and then she helped formulate the National Ex-Slave
Mutual Relief, Bounty and Pension Association, based in Nashville,
Tennessee. Claiming hundreds of thousands of members, this organi-
zation gave birth to the reparations movement of the 1890s, a move-
ment demanding restitution for the unpaid labors of American slavery.
The movement was furiously supported by antiracist poor Blacks,
outhern orrors 271

and furiously opposed by the same class racism that had prevented
Congress from giving Blacks their forty acres and a mule after the
Civil War. Black elites, joining their White peers, typically ignored or
castigated reparations bills. Economic injustices affecting low-income

Blacks took a back seat to education and voting injustices among Black
elites. “The most learned negroes,” Callie House scolded, “have less
interest in their race than any other negro as many of them are fight-
ing against the welfare of their race.”4

ON JUNE 25, 1890, W. E. B. Du Bois spoke at his Harvard graduation

ceremony. He had now excelled, and had graduated from the most
prestigious historically Black college and the most prestigious histor-
ically White college in the United States. He felt he was showing off
the capability of his race. Du Bois’s “brilliant and eloquent address,” as
judged by the reporters, was on “Jefferson Davis as Representative of
Civilization.” In Du Bois’s rendering, Jefferson Davis, who had died
the year before, represented the rugged individualism and domineer-
ing European civilization, in contrast to the rugged “submission” and
selflessness of African civilization. The European “met civilization and
crushed it,” Du Bois concluded. “The Negro met civilization and was
crushed by it.” According to Du Bois’s biographer, the Harvard grad-
uate contrasted the civilized European “Strong Man” to the civilized
African “Submissive Man.”5
Du Bois had clearly been influenced by Harriet Beecher Stowe’s
postwar New England, where ideas on race seemed to start and end
in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. At Harvard, he had also been influenced by one
of the professors, the historian Albert Hart, a hard-line moralist
who deemed character—the “inner man not the outer”—as the key
to social change. Du Bois consumed from Hart and other assimila-
tionists the racist idea that African Americans had been socially and
morally crippled by slavery (and Africa). Du Bois had more faith in
future development than his professor did. In his 1910 travel book The
Southern South, Hart claimed that “the Negro is inferior, and his past
history in Africa and in America leads to the belief that he will remain
272 tamped from the Beginning
inferior.” Thinking about Du Bois specifically, Hart reduced his talents
to his European ancestry. Du Bois was “living proof,” Hart wrote con-
fidentially, “that a mulatto may have as much power and passion as any
white man.”6
In the fall of 1890, Du Bois entered Harvard’s history doctoral
program to study under Hart and continue to prove Black capability.
Soon, though, he would have the opportunity to provide even greater
proof. Around the time he entered graduate school, former president
Rutherford B. Hayes, the director of the Slater Fund for the Educa-
tion of Freedmen, offered to underwrite the European education of
“any young colored man” talented enough for the undertaking, if such
a person existed. “Hitherto,” Hayes told a Johns Hopkins audience,
“their chief and almost only gift has been that of oratory.” Du Bois
stepped up to the intellectual challenge. Two years later, he enrolled at
the University of Berlin, which at the time was the most distinguished
university in the European world.7

THE DAY BEFORE Du Bois’s Harvard commencement address, a young

Massachusetts congressman, Henry Cabot Lodge, introduced the Fed-
eral Elections Bill. Unlike reparations, this bill garnered the support
of Black elites. Its purpose was to mandate federal supervision of elec-
tions when local voters petitioned Washington about voter fraud. Also
called the “Force Bill,” the proposed legislation infuriated the south-
ern segregationists who were listening to Lodge’s speech at the US
Capitol. Lodge questioned the wisdom of the Fifteenth Amendment
but said it was still a “federal responsibility to protect it.” “If any State
thinks that any class of citizens is unfit to vote through ignorance, it
can disqualify them,” he said. “It has but to put an educational qualifi-
cation into this constitution.” House Republicans banged their hands
together, and Lodge felt pleased as the applause guided him to his seat.
House Democrats were silent, some probably jotting down and storing
away his final statement. The Atlanta Constitution blasted the proposed
voting rights bill as the “stillborn child of hate!” Segregationists were
clearly already classing bills against racial discrimination as hateful.
outhern orrors 273

Mississippi Democrats remembered Lodge’s closing statement
when they gathered for their constitutional convention on August 12,
1890. Surprising Lodge, Mississippi Democrats adapted the North’s
anti-poor literacy test, reformulating it into an anti-Black and anti-
poor literacy test for their fourth constitution. The highly subjective
“understanding clause” asked for someone to interpret something in
the Mississippi constitution, allowing racist registrars to pass ignorant
Whites into voting, and fail knowledgeable Blacks into not voting.
When the new constitution went into effect on November 1, 1890,
antiracist White lawyer and activist Albion Tourgee immediately rec-
ognized it as “the most important event” in American history since
South Carolina had seceded from the Union. Over the next decade,
the progression of racism came to all the former Confederate states
and even several border states. They all followed Mississippi’s example,
instituting race-veiled voting restrictions, from literacy tests to poll
taxes, that would purge their voting rolls of the remaining Black (and
many poor White) voters without saying a racial word. The South,
once again, defied the US Constitution—this time, without firing a
single shot, and without northern retaliation.8
Blocked by a filibuster of Democratic senators, the Force Bill never
passed, angering Frederick Douglass. But Du Bois remained calm and
focused on the moral struggle of uplift suasion. “When you have the
right sort of black voters, you will need no election laws,” Du Bois
wrote in the New York Age. “The battle of my people must be a moral
one, not a legal or physical one.” Black Americans were hardly losing
any moral or cultural battles. They were being violently and nonvi-
olently defeated in political and economic battles, as Du Bois would
soon learn.9
The defeat of the Force Bill ended Republican efforts to enforce the
Thirteenth (emancipation) and Fourteenth (civil rights) and Fifteenth
(voting) Amendments. If the Bargain of federal noninterference was
consummated in 1876, then after years of northern and southern reti-
cence, it became the undisputed national policy in the 1890s and in the
first decade of the twentieth century. A series of separate but (un)equal
laws was instituted, segregating nearly every aspect of southern life,
274 tamped from the Beginning
from water fountains, to businesses, to transportation—all to ensure
White solidarity and Black submission and to ensure cheap Black labor.
These separate and inferior Black facilities fed Whites and Blacks alike
the segregationist idea of Blacks being a fundamentally separate and
inferior people.
Segregationist ideas and organizing became a fact of American
life in everything from the women’s movement, where segregationist
women were welcomed into the new National American Woman Suf-
frage Association in 1890, to the nation’s newest leading labor associa-
tion, the American Federation of Labor (AFL), which was a hotbed of
discriminators. AFL president Samuel Gompers lectured Black workers
that “organized labor” was not “antagonistic to the colored race.” He
claimed to know of only a “few instances . . . where colored workers
are discriminated against.” Gompers increasingly blamed Black work-
ers for their depressed economic condition in order to exonerate the
discriminatory actions of his unions.10
Black people did not sit idly by during this segregationist orga-
nizing. Black resistance caused lynchings to spike in the early 1890s.
However, the White lynchers justified the spike in lynchings as cor-
responding to a spike in Black crime. This justification was accepted
by a young W. E. B. Du Bois, by the middle-aged, ambitious princi-
ple of Alabama’s Tuskegee Institute, Booker T. Washington, and by a
dying Frederick Douglass. It took a young antiracist Black woman to
set these racist men straight. Mississippi-born Memphis journalist Ida
B. Wells recoiled from the lynching of friends and the sheer number
of lynchings during the peak of the era in 1892, when the number
of Blacks lynched in the nation reached a whopping 255 souls. She
released a blazing pamphlet in 1892 called Southern Horrors: Lynch Law
in All Its Phases. From a sample of 728 lynching reports in recent years,
Wells found that only about a third of lynching victims had “ever been
charged with rape, to say nothing of those who were innocent of the
charge.” White men were lying about Black-on-White rape, and hiding
their own assaults of Black women, Wells raged.11
Wells knew that immoral constructions about Black women hin-
dered them from fully engaging in the burgeoning women’s club
outhern orrors 275

moral movement that cascaded across the 1890s. “I sometimes hear of
a virtuous Negro woman, but the idea is absolutely inconceivable to
me,” wrote an anonymous “southern White woman” in The Independent.
Oberlin graduate and teacher Anna Julia Cooper took it upon herself
to defend Black womanhood and encourage Black women’s education
in A Voice from the South in 1892. Like Wells, Cooper wrote in the anti-
racist feminist tradition. “The colored woman of to-day occupies, one
may say, a unique position in this country,” Cooper explained. “She is
confronted by both a woman question and a race problem, and is as yet
an unknown or unacknowledged factor in both.” And yet, Cooper did
espouse some class racism. She praised, for instance, the “quiet, chaste
dignity and decorous solemnity” of the Protestant Episcopal Church,
while demeaning the “semi-civilized religionism” of low-income Black


SOUTHERN WHITE MEN were “shielding” themselves “behind the plausi-

ble screen of defending the honor [of their women]” through lynch-
ings in order to “palliate” their record of hate and violence, Ida B. Wells
maintained in Southern Horrors, and again during her 1893 anti-lynching
tour of England. Her speaking tour was an embarrassment to White
Americans. In her work, Wells more or less condemned the strategy of
uplift suasion and championed armed Black self-defense to stop lynch-
ings. “The more the Afro-American yields and cringes and begs,” she
declared, “the more he has to do so, the more he is insulted, outraged,
The pro-lynching president of the Missouri Press Association,
James Jacks, published an open letter to attack Wells—and all Black
women, who, in his view, were nothing but thieves and prostitutes. If
Jacks hoped to silence Wells and her sisters, then his plan backfired. By
the summer of 1896, inflamed Black club women had united under the
banner of the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) to
defend Black womanhood, challenge discrimination, and lend power to
self-help efforts. But some, if not most, of the self-help efforts of these
mostly elite reformers encouraged the assimilation of White women’s
276 tamped from the Beginning
mores. They were based on the same old historical racism that said
that low-income Black women had been morally and culturally ruined
by slavery. “Lifting As We Climb” became the NACW motto.14

AFTER TWO YEARS of study abroad in Germany, W. E. B. Du Bois

returned to the United States in 1894. Slater Fund officials declined
to extend funding for his study abroad, which would have enabled
him to defend his economics doctoral thesis. Though he intended to
prove Black educational capacity, to Slater Fund officials, he looked
like a special education teacher pursuing a physics doctorate. No mat-
ter what Du Bois did, he could not persuade away racist ideas. If Blacks
pursued the European world’s most prestigious degree, they were
looked upon as stupid for doing so. If they did not pursue it, then they
did not have the natural talent, as Rutherford B. Hayes said in 1890,
provoking Du Bois. Even Du Bois’s settling for being the first African
American to earn a Harvard history doctorate in 1895 brought on rac-
ist ridicule. In elite White circles, Du Bois became known as one of
those “half dozen Negroes” who had allowed Harvard “to make a man
out of semi-beast,” as New Yorker Franklin Delano Roosevelt exulted
as a Harvard freshman in 1903.15
Though Du Bois’s educational success in Germany did not prove
much of anything to American producers and consumers of racist
ideas, Du Bois did prove something to himself. He had grown more
accustomed to meeting “not white folks, but folks.” He mentally
climbed in Germany and stood on an equal plane with White people.
But his new antiracist mind-set of not looking up at White people did
not stop him from looking down at supposedly low-class Black people.
It would take Du Bois much longer to see not low-class Black folks, but
folks on an equal human plane with him and the rest of the (White)
Du Bois accepted a position in 1894 teaching Greek and Latin at
the A.M.E. Church’s flagship college in Ohio, Wilberforce. He was
determined “to begin a life-work, leading to the emancipation of the
American Negro.” Somehow, some way, he maintained his faith that
outhern orrors 277

American racism could be persuaded and educated away. “The ulti-
mate evil was stupidity” about race by “the majority of white Ameri-
cans,” he theorized. “The cure for it was knowledge based on scientific
Whereas Du Bois wanted to educate Americans about the capac-
ity of Black people for the higher pursuits, Booker T. Washington, the
calculating thirty-eight-year-old principal of Tuskegee, wanted Black
people to publicly focus on the lower pursuits, which was much more
acceptable to White Americans. Booker T. Washington claimed the
vacancy of race leadership that had been vacated upon Frederick Dou-
glass’s death in 1895. Ida B. Wells would have been a better replace-
ment, but she was a woman, and too antiracist for most Americans. In
private, Washington supported civil rights and empowerment causes
across the South throughout his career. In public, his talking points
reflected the New South racism that elites enjoyed hearing.18
At the opening of the Cotton States International Exposition on
September 18, 1895, Washington delivered the “Atlanta Compro-
mise.” He asked southern Whites to stop trying to push Blacks out
of the house of America, and to allow them to reside comfortably in
the basement—to help them to rise up, knowing that when they rose,
the whole house would rise. Many of the landowners in the Atlanta
audience had spent their lifetimes trying to convince their Black share-
croppers “to dignify and glorify common labour.” So when Washing-
ton beckoned to them with the words, “It is at the bottom of life we
must begin, and not at the top,” they were overjoyed. Rest assured,
Washington said, “the wisest among my race understand that the agi-
tation of questions of social equality is the extremest folly.”19
Amid the excited applause from thousands, the waving handker-
chiefs, the flowers pulled from White women’s bosoms that showered
Washington when he finished, New South editor Clark Howell of the
Atlanta Constitution sprinted up to the speakers’ platform. He shouted,
“That man’s speech is the beginning of a moral revolution in Amer-
ica!” Washington’s words were telegraphed to every major newspaper
in the nation. Editors published raving reviews. Democratic president
Grover Cleveland arrived in Atlanta and called Washington the “new
278 tamped from the Beginning
hope” for Black people. “Let me heartily congratulate you upon your
phenomenal success at Atlanta,” W. E. B. Du Bois glowed in a telegram
on September 24, 1895. “It was a word fitly spoken.”20
Not every Black commentator was like Du Bois, applauding Wash-
ington, however. Calvin Chase of the Washington Bee did not see com-
promise, but “death to the Afro-American and elevating to white
people.” Death or not, Booker T. Washington grasped the national
acclaim, attracted philanthropists like Andrew Carnegie, and built the
“Tuskegee Machine,” an institution that over the next decade ruled
Black colleges, businesses, newspapers, and political patronage. And
a year after Washington had loudly issued the Atlanta Compromise
with southern segregationists, the US Supreme Court quietly fol-
lowed suit.21
For years, the US Supreme Court had been stuffed with northern-

born corporate lawyers happily wielding the Fourteenth Amendment
to cut down laws violating the “liberty” and “civil rights” of capital to
dictate the wages and working conditions of labor. The Court pro-
vided no such protections for the liberty and civil rights of workers,
women, immigrants, and Black people. On May 18, 1896, the Court
ruled 7–1 in Plessy v. Ferguson that Louisiana’s Separate Car Act—and
other new Jim Crow laws—violated neither the Thirteenth nor the
Fourteenth Amendments. The biracial Homer Plessy had challenged
the law requiring Louisiana railroads to provide “equal but separate
accommodations” for White and Black passengers. New Orleans judge
John H. Ferguson had claimed that the “foul odors of blacks in close
quarters” made the law reasonable. The Louisiana Supreme Court and
the US Supreme Court upheld Ferguson’s ruling.
In his majority opinion, Supreme Court Justice Henry Billings
Brown relied on racist ideas to support a policy that was clearly dis-
criminatory in intent. It was his job to obscure those intentions. Justice
Brown evaded the politics of the Louisiana Separate Car Act, evaded
the discriminatory intent, and evaded the obvious shoddiness of the
railcars for Blacks, and instead semantically classed it a “social law”
that merely recognized the social “distinction” between the races.
“If one race be inferior to the other socially, the Constitution of the
outhern orrors 279

United States cannot put them upon the same plane,” wrote the former
Detroit corporate lawyer. The lone dissenting voice to the Plessy ruling
was hardly an antiracist voice. Though he did not doubt that Whites
would forever be “the dominant race in this country,” Justice John Har-
lan of Kentucky wrote, “in the view of the Constitution, in the eye of
the law, there is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of
citizens. Our Constitution is color-blind and neither knows nor toler-
ates classes among citizens.”
On May 18, 1896, the New York Times buried the Plessy decision in
a third-page column focusing on railroad news, reflecting the case’s
marginal news coverage and the nation’s marginal awareness of its
significance. The Plessy decision legalized what was already assumed
by the New South and America: separate but unequal, and branded
it equal for courts and consciences to stop antiracist resistance. The
social conscience of America was a significant political factor during
this period. It was the beginning of the Progressive era.22
Though it is popularly remembered as a time of heartfelt social
concern and awareness, in reality the Progressive era was rigged by
elite White men and women. It was dominated, at least from the
standpoint of its elite funders and organizers, by a desire to end the
social strife caused by industrialization, urbanization, immigration,
and inequality in the 1880s and 1890s. Cotton Mather’s blessings of
order through benevolence still held the philanthropist’s ear from Bos-
ton to Atlanta after all these years. The projected benevolence of the
Plessy ruling and the Atlanta Compromise seemed to bring a finality to
the disorder of the “Negro problem.” Indeed, the finality of the “Negro
problem” as the nineteenth century closed meant a United States dead
set on playing down the southern horrors of discrimination and play-
ing up what was wrong with Black people.23

Black Judases
AFTER PLESSY V. FERGUSON reportedly solved the “Negro problem,” Brit-
ish physician Havelock Ellis proclaimed that a new question had pre-
sented itself. “The question of sex,” he said, “with the racial questions
that rest on it—stands before the coming generations as the chief
problem for solution.” It was an overly ambitious prediction in the first
medical treatise on homosexuality, Studies in the Psychology of Sex (1897).
Western nations were still not ready to sufficiently deal with the real-
ity of multiple sexualities, at least not in public. Ellis nevertheless tried
to put sexuality on the Progressive era’s agenda. This self-described
friend of the yet unnamed LGBT community popularized the term
“homosexual,” classifying it as a congenital physiological abnormality
(or “sexual inversion”). Ellis aimed to defend homosexuality against the
“law and public opinion” that regarded homosexuals as criminals in the
late nineteenth-century English-speaking world.1
Similarly, racist scholars had long conceived of Blacks as criminals,
and of Blackness as a physiological abnormality, debating all along about
whether it was congenital. “Sexologists,” inspired by scholars of race,
were already using the comparative anatomy of women’s bodies to con-
coct biological differences between sexualities at the turn of the cen-
tury. While racist scholars were distinguishing between the “free” and
prominent clitorises of “negresses” and the “imprisonment” of the clitoris
of the “Aryan American woman,” homophobic scholars started claiming
that lesbians “will in practically every instance disclose an abnormally
prominent clitoris. This is particularly so in colored women.”2

Bla k Judases 281

To sexist thinkers in the late nineteenth century, the more prom-
inent the clitoris, the less chaste the woman, and the less chaste the
woman, the lower the woman on the hierarchical scale of woman-
hood. Hence the convergence of racist, sexist, and homophobic ideas
that deemed both White lesbians and Black heterosexual women to
be more chaste, and higher on the scale of womanhood, than Black
lesbians, who reportedly had the largest clitorises. When men, Black
heterosexual women, or White lesbians viewed Black lesbians, bisex-
uals, or transgender women as biologically or socially inferior, as less
chaste, they were speaking at the intersection of racist, sexist, and
homophobic ideas. They were articulating queer racism.
But it was difficult to find a scholar willing to engage sexuality, let
alone sexuality and race—and increasingly, even race. W. E. B. Du Bois
had begun his career trying to present solutions to the “Negro prob-
lem” to White intellectuals. But many of these intellectuals now felt it
had been solved by Plessy—or it would be solved, by the natural selec-
tion of evolution or extinction. A statistician for the Prudential Insur-
ance Company predicted the imminent extinction of Black people in
his epic book that relied on the 1890 census figures. Unlike the Plessy
ruling, Frederick Hoffman’s Race Traits and Tendencies of the American Negro
received plenty of attention in 1896. Packed with statistical tables and
published by the American Economic Association, the book was a pio-
neering work in American medical research, and it catapulted Hoffman
into scientific celebrity in the Western world as the heralded father of
American public health. At “the time of emancipation,” he wrote, south-
ern Blacks were “healthy in body and cheerful in mind.” “What are the
conditions thirty years after?” Well, “in the plain language of the facts,”
free Blacks were headed toward “gradual extinction,” pulled down by
their natural immoralities, law-breaking, and diseases. Hoffman sup-
plied his employer with an excuse for its discriminatory policies con-
cerning African Americans—that is, for denying them life insurance.
White life insurance companies refused to insure a supposedly dying
race. Yet another racist idea was produced to defend a racist policy.3
In a critical book review, W. E. B. Du Bois argued that Freder-
ick Hoffman had manipulated statistics to present his prediction of
282 tamped from the Beginning
Black extinction. Hoffman’s native Germany, Du Bois pointed out, had
death rates that matched or exceeded that of African Americans. Were
Germans headed toward extinction? Du Bois mockingly asked, before
rejecting Hoffman’s supposition that higher Black death rates indi-
cated imminent Black extinction. But Du Bois could not reject Hoff-
man’s supposition that higher Black arrest and prison rates indicated
that Blacks actually committed more crimes. Not Hoffman, not Du
Bois, no one really knew the actual crime rates—all of the instances
of Americans breaking the law, whether caught or not. But the higher
Black arrest and prison rates substantiated the racist ideas of more
Black crime. And these racist ideas spun the cycle of racial discrimi-
nation in the criminal justice system, more suspicions of Black people,
more police in Black neighborhoods, more arrests and prison time for
Black people, and thus more suspicions, and on and on.
In all of his intellectual power, Du Bois proved unable to stop the
cycle of racial profiling and crime statistics and racist ideas. He sub-
stantiated the disparities in arrest and prison rates through both anti-
racist (“dogged Anglo-Saxon prejudice” had “subjected [Blacks and
Whites] to different standards of justice”) and racist explanations (the
“dazed freedman” lacked a moral foundation). Du Bois was far from
alone. None of the scholars who became members of the first national
Black intellectual group, the American Negro Academy, formed in
1897, could reject the statistics, or refute them as indicators of greater
Black crime. Instead, they accepted the numbers as fact and tried to
push against the stereotypes of criminal Blacks through education and
persuasion, thus reproducing the racist ideas they were working to
For instance, in his 1897 address for the opening meeting of the
American Negro Academy, entitled “The Conservation of Races,” Du
Bois put forth the argument of biologically distinct races with distinct
histories, characteristics, and destinies. African Americans were “mem-
bers of a vast historic race that from the dawn of creation has slept,
but half awakening in the dark forests of its African fatherland,” he
said. “The first and greatest step toward the settlement of the present
friction between the races,” that is, toward social equilibrium, he said,
Bla k Judases 283

“lies in the correction of the immorality, crime, and laziness among
the Negroes themselves, which still remains as a heritage of slavery.”
The speech was hastily published, circulated, and acclaimed. Du Bois
and the American Negro Academy hoped the pamphlet would refute
the popular conception of the destructive, decaying, dying African
in the post-Plessy, post-Hoffman era. But it was riddled with racist
ideas, speaking of “blood” races, race traits, backward Africa, imbru-
ting enslavement, criminally minded and effeminate African Ameri-
can men, strong Europeans, and the idea that African Americans were
superior to continental Africans. Du Bois reinforced as much racism as
he struck down.5
Du Bois was also working on a more antiracist tome, however. As a
visiting researcher at the University of Pennsylvania in 1896 and 1897,
he worked on The Philadelphia Negro, a thoroughly antiracist “social
study” about racism being “the spirit that enters in and complicates
all Negro social problems.” And yet, he was unrestrained in his moral
attacks on the poor, on Black criminals, and on women, saying, for
example, that it was “the duty of Negroes” to “solve” the problem of
Black female “unchastity.” Though the book is now regarded as a clas-
sic sociological text, only a few academic journals reviewed it upon
its release in 1899. One anonymous reviewer, in the leading American
Historical Review, commended Du Bois for “laying all necessary stress
on the weakness of his people,” and then ridiculed him for believing
that these supposed weaknesses could be cured. Reading this review,
Du Bois should have gathered that when he tried directing his read-
ers from the crossroads of racist and antiracist ideas, they oftentimes
would not reach his desired antiracist destination. Then again, Du
Bois, like his elite Black peers, hardly considered their attacks on the
Black poor and Black women to be racist.6
Whatever Du Bois achieved, whatever he published, he failed to
gain the following—or the financial support—of northern philan-
thropists that Booker T. Washington enjoyed. On his fund-raising
travels, Washington had a knack for putting White audiences at ease
by sharing his famously funny (or infamously offensive) southern
“darky” jokes. Washington gave wealthy Whites what they wanted—a
284 tamped from the Beginning
one-man minstrel show—and they gave him what he wanted—a check
for Tuskegee. Washington somehow demeaned Black people as stupid
for an hour and then received donations to educate those same stupid
Washington was ingeniously playing the racial game, but it was a
dangerous game to play at the end of the nineteenth century. A surge
of racist violence to snatch Black economic and political power spread
from North Carolina in 1898 to Georgia in 1899. Du Bois witnessed
some of this violence in Georgia. He had taken a professorship at
Atlanta University in 1897, and had started spearheading annual scien-
tific studies on all aspects of southern Black life. But in April 1899, he
became heartbroken over his inability to prevent the infamous lynch-
ing near Atlanta of Sam Hose, who had killed an oppressive White
employer in self-defense. In August, armed Blacks in coastal Georgia’s
McIntosh County drove back a lynching mob. “One could not be a
calm, cool, and detached scientist while Negroes were lynched, mur-
dered and starved; and secondly, there was no such demand for sci-
entific work of the sort that I was doing as I had confidently assumed
would be easily forthcoming,” Du Bois later wrote. Firmly believing
“that the majority of Americans would rush to the defense of democ-
racy . . . if they realized how race prejudice was threatening it,” Du Bois
adopted a more aggressive commitment to educational persuasion.8
In July 1900, he attended the First Pan-African Conference in
London, sponsored by Booker T. Washington. “To be sure, the darker
races are today the least advanced in culture according to European
standards,” said Du Bois in assimilationist style. But they had the
“capacity” to one day reach those “high ideals.” And so, “as soon as
practicable,” Du Bois proclaimed, there should be decolonization in
Africa and the Caribbean.9
Du Bois’s rationale for gradual decolonization—Black nations
were not ready for independence—echoed the old racist rationales
for gradual emancipation—Black people were not ready for freedom.
Du Bois echoed those proclaiming in 1899 that Cuba, Guam, Puerto
Rico, and the Philippines, the colonies the United States had received
from winning the 1898 Spanish-American War, were not ready for
Bla k Judases 285

independence. Segregationists and antiracists opposed, while assim-
ilationists supported, the formal launching of the American Empire.
In a poem printed in McClure’s Magazine in 1899, the literary prophet
of British imperialism, Rudyard Kipling, urged Americans to “Take up
the White Man’s burden— / Send forth the best ye breed— / Go send
your sons to exile / To serve your captives’ need / To wait in heavy har-
ness / On fluttered folk and wild— / Your new-caught, sullen peoples /

Half devil and half child.”10
Imperial assimilationists won the debate among the mostly White
male electorate, if President William McKinley’s successful reelection
campaign in 1900 was any indication. His running mate, Theodore
Roosevelt, declared, in 1901, “It is our duty toward the people living
in barbarism to see that they are freed from their chains, and we can
free them only by destroying barbarism itself.” While US leaders pub-
licly debated the colonial peoples’ capacity for civilization and assim-
ilation, they privately debated military bases, puppet politics, natural
resources, foreign markets, and war costs. This public humanitarian
debate, which was also a private political-economic debate, became
a twentieth-century staple as the American Empire publicly and pri-
vately warred to extend its sphere of influence. At home and abroad, a
profound political racism cast non-Whites as incapable of self-rule, or
capable of self-rule one day—in order to justify both their subjection
and the resulting socioeconomic disparities. Some Black newspaper
editors saw through the mask, connecting the nation’s foreign racial
policy to its domestic racial policy. They blasted the “robbers, mur-
derers, and unscrupulous monopolists,” to quote the Salt Lake City
Broad Ax in 1899. The federal government “could not deal justly with
dark-skinned peoples,” another paper blared, “as evidenced by its do-
nothing record at home.”11
In this new American Empire, American racist ideas went through
what seemed very much like a revolving door, constantly going out
into the colonizing world and then coming back into the country
after conditioning the immigrant minds of the people arriving in the
United States in the early 1900s. When Irish, Jewish, Italian, Asian,
Chicana/o, and Latina/o people in America were called anti-Black
286 tamped from the Beginning
racial epithets like “greasers” or “guineas” or “White niggers,” some
resisted and joined in solidarity with Black people. But most probably
consumed the racist ideas, distancing themselves from Black people.
Blacks in the early twentieth century would joke that the first English
word immigrants learned was “nigger.”12

ON JANUARY 29, 1901, the lone Black representative, George H. White

of North Carolina, gave his farewell address to Congress. About 90
percent of the nation’s Black people resided in the South, but they
were no longer represented by Black politicians in the state legisla-
tures and in Congress. Their mass disenfranchisement, and charges
of incompetency leveled against Black politicians by White ones, had
made sure of that. “This, Mr. Chairman, is perhaps the negroes’ tem-
porary farewell to the American Congress,” said White, “but let me
say, Phoenix-like he will rise up someday and come again.” Not many
believed him. As White trotted out of the hall, the leading American
historians and political scientists looked upon him as the Reconstruc-
tion era’s final defective product in the nation’s capital.13
At the time, William Archibald Dunning reigned as the director of
Columbia University’s preeminent Dunning School of Reconstruction
history. The school was at the forefront of an academic revolution
highlighting the “objective” use of the scientific method in the human-
ities. “For the first time meticulous and thorough research was carried
on in an effort to determine the truth rather than to prove a thesis,”
was how one historian described the impact of the Dunning School
in the American Historical Review in 1940. The “truth,” though, meant
Dunning school historians of the Reconstruction era chronicling the
White South as victimized by the corrupt and incompetent Black
politicians, and the North mistakenly forcing Reconstruction before
quickly correcting itself and leaving the noble White South to its own
wits. “All the forces that made for civilization were dominated by a
mass of barbarous freedmen,” Dunning supposed in his 1907 classic,
Reconstruction: Political and Economic, 1865–1877.14
Bla k Judases 287

Dunning trained a generation of influential southern historians
who became department chairs and dominated the discipline of his-
tory for decades in the twentieth century. His most notable student
was Georgia native Ulrich Bonnell Phillips. In American Negro Slavery
(1918), along with eight more books and a duffel bag of articles, Phil-
lips erased the truth of slavery as a highly lucrative enterprise dom-
inated by planters who incessantly forced a resisting people to labor
through terror, manipulation, and racist ideas. Instead he dreamed
up an unprofitable commerce dominated by benevolent, paternalis-
tic planters civilizing and caring for a “robust, amiable, obedient and
content” barbaric people. Phillips’s pioneering use of plantation docu-
ments legitimated his racist dreams and made them seem like objective
realities. Phillips remained the most respected scholarly voice on slav-
ery until the mid-twentieth century.15
Until midcentury, the Dunning School’s fables of slavery and
Reconstruction were transferred into schoolbooks, or at least into
those that mentioned Black people at all. Most textbook writers
excluded Black people from schoolbooks as deliberately as southern
Democrats excluded them from the polls. But the greatest popular-
izer of the Dunning story of Reconstruction was none other than a
novelist, Thomas Dixon Jr. In one of his earliest memories, Dixon
witnessed a lynching in his North Carolina town. “The Klan are . . .
guarding us from harm,” his mother told him that night, indoctrinating
him into the racist justification for White terror. When he came of
age, Dixon wept at the “misrepresentation of southerners” inflicted by
northerners upon seeing a theatrical version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Vow-
ing to share the “true story,” he composed a “Reconstruction Trilogy”
of best-selling novels—The Leopard’s Spots: A Romance of the White Man’s
Burden—1865–1900 (1902), The Clansman: An Historical Romance of the Ku
Klux Klan (1905), and The Traitor: A Story of the Fall of the Invisible Empire
(1907). His goal was “to teach the North . . . what it has never known—
the awful suffering of the white man during the dreadful Reconstruc-
tion period[,]  .  .  . [and] to demonstrate to the world that the white
man must and shall be supreme.” In the fictional trilogy, which was
288 tamped from the Beginning
taken as historical fact by millions, Dixon posed Reconstruction as a
period when corrupt, incompetent northerners and Black legislators
ruled, terrorized, disenfranchised, and raped southern Whites until
they were redeemed by the might and virtue of the Ku Klux Klan.
Nothing arrested the national mind in the hazards of Black voting,
nothing justified the do-nothing attitude, better than this racist fiction
of Reconstruction, whether it was written by novelists or by scholars.16

AS THE ALL-WHITE, all-male Congress settled into Washington in 1901,

these White men were able to ease any twinges of guilt they may have
felt by reading Booker T. Washington’s hit autobiography, Up from
Slavery. Washington expressed faith in God, took personal responsi-
bility, worked mightily hard, overcame incredible hardship, and saw
racial progress and “White saviors” at every turn. “White Savior” sto-
ries were fast becoming a fixture in American memoirs, novels, and
theatrical productions. They were enjoyed by Americans of all races
as hopeful signs of racial progress. Individual stories either reflected
or deflected common realities. The individual White Savior stories
cleverly deflected the reality of White saviors for a few, and White
discriminators for the many, along with the reality of racial progress
for a few, and deferred progress for the many.17
The release of Up from Slavery in February 1901 allowed Booker
T. Washington to stand at the height of his career. W. E. B. Du Bois
watched the national ovation for Washington’s memoir. As the praise
carried on into the summer of 1901, and as Du Bois looked up at
Washington on the White pedestal of Black leadership, it all started to
become too much for him to bear in silence. In his review of Up from
Slavery in Dial on July 16, 1901, Du Bois fired the first shot in the civil
war between Washington’s Tuskegee Machine and Du Bois’s elite civil
rights activists.
In addition to scolding Washington for his “accommodation,” Du
Bois scolded those leaders “who represent the old ideas of revolt and
revenge, and see in migration alone an outlet for the Negro people.”
A.M.E. bishop Henry McNeal Turner had for years preached that
Bla k Judases 289

God was a “Negro,” but he urged African Americans to migrate to
Africa so that they could leave all the discriminatory policies behind.
Du Bois reduced all back-to-Africa efforts, including those on Black
terms, and violent protests against enslavers and re-enslavers to
revenge and hate. Antiracists were not defending Black humanity and
freedom, he said, as Ida B. Wells had so eloquently advocated doing.
It was customary for assimilationists to charge antiracists as being
like segregationists—all hate-filled and irrational. These fabricated
labels would marginalize antiracists throughout the twentieth century,
would one day even marginalize the elderly antiracist Du Bois. But in
1901, Du Bois began to criticize the accommodators and the antirac-
ists in part for his own purposes: in order to set the stage for his “large
and important group” opposing the Tuskegee Machine, those reform-
ist assimilationists seeking “self-development and self-realization in all
lines of human endeavor” in order to allow Blacks, eventually, to take
their place alongside the people of other races.18
Washington’s Up from Slavery remains an American classic. How-
ever, in 1901, another book, released weeks before Up from Slavery,
received much more praise: The American Negro: What He Was, What
He Is, and What He May Become. For years, William Hannibal Thomas
had tried to desegregate White institutions; he had preached, taught,
and written to uplift Blacks, eliminate racial distinctions, and forge a
world where Black people would be accepted by White people as their
own. And yet, according to a prerelease preview by the New York Times,
Thomas had presented “his subject without an atom of sentimentality.”
Thomas described a Black “record of lawless existence, led by
every impulse and passion,” especially immorality and stupidity.
Ninety percent of Black women, he said, were “lascivious by instinct
and in bondage to physical pleasure”; they were living lives of filth
“without parallel in modern civilization.”
Thomas thought at the junction between assimilationist and seg-
regationist ideas. He argued that a minority of Blacks—by which he
meant himself and his kind—had overcome their inferior biological
inheritance. These extraordinary Negroes showed that “the redemp-
tion of the negro [was] . . . possible and assured through a thorough
290 tamped from the Beginning
assimilation of the thought and ideals of American civilization.”
Thomas advocated restricting the voting rights of naturally corrupt
Blacks, policing naturally criminal Blacks, placing Black children with
White guardians, and pursuing uplift suasion. Blacks should conduct
themselves “so worthily as to disarm racial antagonism,” he advised.19
As Thomas tried to distance himself from Blackness through The
American Negro, it was, ironically, his very Blackness that caused White
Americans to shower him with the adoration he so desired. Since rac-
ist ideas deemed every individual Black person an expert and repre-
sentative of the race, Black people like Thomas had always proved to
be the perfect dispensers of racist ideas. Their Blackness made them
more believable. Their Blackness did not invite defensive mechanisms
to guard against their racist ideas about Black inferiority.
Racist Americans, from the nation’s most eminent sociologists to
ordinary readers, hailed The American Negro as the most authoritative,
believable, and comprehensive tract ever published on the subject,
better than Du Bois’s The Philadelphia Negro. William Hannibal Thomas
was placed “next to Mr. Booker T. Washington” as “the best American
authority on the negro question,” said the New York Times. Within Black
America, however, Thomas became known as “Black Judas.” Activist
Addie Hunton actually classed Thomas a “Judas Iscariot” in her piece
“Negro Womanhood Defended.” Booker T. Washington and W. E. B.
Du Bois hated the book. “Mr. Thomas’s book,” Du Bois charged in his
review, was a “sinister symptom” of the age, which desired nothing
more for “the Negro” than to “kindly go to the devil and make haste
about it,” so that the “American conscience [could] justify three cen-
turies of shameful history.” After Black leaders dug up dirt on Thomas
and destroyed his credibility, he fell into obscurity. He passed away as
a Black man in 1935. He never did become White.20

ON OCTOBER 16, 1901, the newly sworn-in President Theodore Roo-

sevelt, hearing that Booker T. Washington was in town, invited “the
most distinguished member of his race in the world” over to the Pres-
ident’s House for family supper. Roosevelt did not think much of the
Bla k Judases 291

invite, clearly unaware of the mood of segregationists. When Roo-
sevelt’s press secretary casually notified Americans the next day of
Washington’s visit, the social earthquake was immediate and loud.
Black Americans were beside themselves in glee, and many fell in
love with Theodore Roosevelt. But to segregationists, Roosevelt had
crossed the color line. “When Mr. Roosevelt sits down to dinner with
a negro he declares that the negro is the social equal of the white
man,” stammered a restrained New Orleans newspaper. South Caro-
lina senator Ben “Pitchfork” Tillman was not restrained: “The action of
President Roosevelt in entertaining that nigger,” he said, “will necessi-
tate our killing a thousand niggers in the South before they will learn
their place again.” Tillman showed in this statement the real purpose
of lynchings: if racist ideas won’t subdue Blacks, then violence will.
Roosevelt learned his lesson, and he never invited a Black person to
the President’s House again. But he failed to quiet segregationists by
officially naming the president’s residence the “White House.” Blacks
were beasts—segregationist books were declaring in the early years
of the twentieth century, starting with Mississippi professor Charles
Carroll’s The Negro a Beast (1900)—and beasts should not be dining at
the “White House.”21
In the midst of this overpowering segregationist discourse, W. E. B.
Du Bois had the audacity to publish the most acclaimed book of his
career. Released on April 18, 1903, the book title decreed in profoundly
antiracist fashion that Blacks were not soulless beasts. Black folk were
fully human, and Du Bois made Americans “listen to the strivings in
the souls of black folk.” Decades later, James Weldon Johnson, the
composer of the “Black National Anthem,” sang the praises of Du Bois’s
The Souls of Black Folk for having more impact “upon and within the
Negro race than any other single book published in this country since
Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” It was a perfect comparison. Like Uncle Tom’s Cabin,
Du Bois’s fourteen essays drilled much deeper into the American mind
the racist construction of complementary biological race traits, of the
humble, soulful African complementing the hard, rational European.
Blacks should be fostering and developing “the traits and talents of the
Negro,” Du Bois proposed, “in order that some day on American soil
292 tamped from the Beginning
two world-races may give each to each those characteristics both so
sadly lack.” Black people were “the sole oasis of simple faith and rever-
ence in a dusty desert of dollars and smartness.”22
It was a racist idea to suppose that the racial groups were not equal,
and that a racial group lacked certain human characteristics. In 1903,
White people did not lack “simple faith and reverence,” and Black
people did not lack materialism and “smartness.” Ironically, many of the
northern defenders of slavery and abolition, and now Jim Crow and
civil rights, had attested to the “simple faith” of humble Blacks and the
“smartness” of strong Whites. In The Souls of Black Folk, Du Bois tried to
revolutionize the dividing ideal of race into the “unifying ideal of race.”
This “unifying ideal of race” would not only heal the United
States, he argued, but also heal the souls of Black folk. In the book’s
most memorable passage, he explained further:

This American world . . . yields [the Negro] no true self-consciousness,

but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other
world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense
of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measur-
ing one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused con-
tempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness,—an American, a Negro;
two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring
ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from
being torn asunder.

Blacks must therefore reckon with the fact that “the history of the
American Negro is the history of this strife—this longing to attain
self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and
truer self,” Du Bois wrote. “He simply wishes to make it possible for a
man to be both a Negro and an American.”23
It was as if many of his Black readers had been straining all
these years to do precisely what he had described. Du Bois’s theory
of double-consciousness finally gave many of them the glasses they
needed to see—to see themselves, to see their own inner struggles.
Just as Harriet Beecher Stowe’s book met many White folk where they
Bla k Judases 293

were, at the warring crossroads between segregationist and assimila-
tionist ideas, Du Bois met many Black folk where they were, at the war-
ring crossroads between assimilationist and antiracist ideas. Du Bois
believed in both the antiracist concept of cultural relativity—of every
person looking at the self from the eyes of his or her own group—and
the assimilationist idea of Black individuals seeing themselves from the
perspective of White people. In Du Bois’s mind, and for so many like-
minded people, this double-desire, or double-consciousness, yielded
an inner strife, a conflict between pride in equal Blackness and assimi-
lation into superior Whiteness.
While his opening essay was timeless, his timely case against “Mr.
Booker T. Washington and Others” carried the book into controversy
in 1903. Du Bois had given his opening argument against the Tuske-
gee Machine two years earlier, and there was no leaving the court-
room now. After again disparaging Washington’s accommodators, and
then the singly conscious antiracists, Du Bois asserted the standing of
his doubly-conscious group, which he named the Talented Tenth—
the top 10 percent of Black America. They knew “that the low social
level of the mass of the race is responsible for much discrimination
against it,” but they also knew, along with the nation, “that relentless
color-prejudice is more often a cause than a result of the Negro’s deg-
radation.” The Talented Tenth sought “the abatement of this relic of
barbarism and not its systematic encouragement.”24
Du Bois identified the Talented Tenth in another published piece
in 1903 that was riddled with more assimilationist ideas and class rac-
ism. “There are in this land a million men of Negro blood . . . [who]
have reached the full measure of the best type European culture,” Du
Bois judged. It was the duty of this “aristocracy of talent and charac-
ter” to lead and civilize the masses, to filter culture “downward,” and
to show “the capability of Negro blood.” However, he complained,
“as this Talented Tenth is pointed out, the blind worshippers of the
Average cry out in alarm: ‘These are exceptions, look here at death,
disease and crime—these are the happy rule.’ Of course they are the
rule, because a silly nation made them the rule.” Du Bois fumed about
the extraordinary-Negro conception, this “silly” conceptual loophole
294 tamped from the Beginning
to uplift suasion. But, somehow, he kept his own faith in the potential
of the silly strategy of uplift suasion.25
Du Bois’s call to arms in The Souls of Black Folk to strike down those
accommodating to Jim Crow was as insightful and impassioned (and
racist) as William Lloyd Garrison’s call to arms to strike down the col-
onizationists accommodating slavery. And segregationists and accom-
modators instantly knew it. “This book is indeed dangerous for the
negro to read,” admitted the Nashville American. The Outlook chided
Du Bois, rather accurately, for being “half ashamed of being a negro.”
Then the reviewer held up Booker T. Washington, rather inaccurately,
as unashamed. The Tuskegee Machine tried to suppress the book, to
no avail. Black newspapers, free of Washington, usually shouted the
same thing: “should e read and studied y every person, white and
la k,” as the Ohio Enterprise put it in a headline. University of Penn-
sylvania sociologist Carl Kelsey, speaking for racist White scholars,
admonished Du Bois for emphasizing “the bad,” the discrimination.
Prejudice “will cease,” Kelsey wrote, “when the blacks can command
the respect and sympathy of the whites.”26
In the aftermath of The Souls of Black Folk and Du Bois’s Talented
Tenth essay, racial reformers and scholars of race, whether White
or Black, whether applauding or critiquing Du Bois, seemed to have
formed a consensus on the solution to the “Negro problem.” They
spoke of the need for more strident uplift suasion, for upwardly mobile
Talented Tenths persuading away the racist ideas of White folk. The
strategy remained deeply racist. Black people, apparently, were respon-
sible for changing racist White minds. White people, apparently,
were not responsible for their own racist mentalities. If White people
were racist and discriminated against Blacks, then Black people were
to blame, because they had not commanded Whites’ respect? Uplift
suasion had been deployed for more than a century, and its effect in
1903? American racism may have never been worse. But neither its
undergirding racist ideas, nor its historical failure, nor the extraordi-
nary Negro construction ensuring its continued failure had lessened
the faith of reformers. Uplift suasion had been and remained one of
the many great White hopes of racist America.

Great W hite Hopes

IN MAY 1906, W. E. B. Du Bois welcomed to Atlanta University the
nation’s most eminent anthropologist, a Columbia University professor
who was actually questioning segregationist ideas of Blacks as beasts.
Franz Boas had emigrated from Germany in 1886, when American
racial classifiers were almost uniformly identifying the “organic infe-
riority,” or Blackness, of his Jewish people. The “predominant mouth
of some Jews,” one anthropologist maintained, was “the result of the
presence of black blood.” Boas’s own experiences with anti-Semitism
had shaped his hostility to segregationist ideas of biologically distinct
races (and ethnicities), of the natural human hierarchy of racial and
ethnic groups—that is, ideas positioning Whites over Blacks, and fur-
ther positioning lily-White Anglo-Saxons over semi-White Jews.1
Franz Boas attended Du Bois’s Atlanta University conference on
“The Health and Physique of the Negro-American.” Scholars ques-
tioned or rejected the widely held impression that races were biolog-
ically distinct, and that cardiologists could actually distinguish “Black
blood,” and that below the skin and hair, doctors and scientists could
actually distinguish a Black body, or a “Black disease.” Du Bois pre-
sented, but he also learned about the absence of scientific proof for his
long-held biological race concept.2
Two days after the May 1906 conference, Boas delivered Atlanta
University’s commencement address. “To those who stoutly maintain a
material inferiority of the Negro race,” he proclaimed, “the past history
of your race does not sustain [that] statement.” Boas then astonished

296 tamped from the Beginning
Du Bois and probably many of his Black students by recounting the
glories of precolonial West African kingdoms like those of Ghana,
Mali, and Songhay. Boas awakened Du Bois from the paralysis of his
historical racism, or, as Du Bois explained it, “from the paralysis of the
commonly held judgement taught to me in high school and in two of
the world’s great universities”: that Africans had “no history.”3
Du Bois’s intellectual high, that May, came crashing down with
Black America by the end of the year. The day after Republicans used
Black votes to regain the House in the 1906 midterm elections, Pres-
ident Theodore Roosevelt ordered the dishonorable discharge (and
loss of pensions) of 167 Black soldiers in the 25th Infantry Regiment,
a Black unit that had been a huge source of Black pride. A dozen or so
members of the regiment had been falsely accused of murdering a bar-
tender and wounding a police officer in the horrifically racist town of
Brownsville, Texas, on August 13, 1906. Overnight, the most popular
US president in Black communities since Abraham Lincoln became the
most unpopular. “Once enshrined in our hearts as Moses,” shouted out
a Harlem pastor, the Reverend Adam Clayton Powell Sr., Roosevelt
was “now enshrouded in our scorn as Judas.” In the final days of 1906,
it was hard to find an African American who was not spitting ire at the
Roosevelt administration. Roosevelt’s efforts to regain Black support
with new Black federal appointments failed. Sounding the indignation
of the observant press, the New York Times reported that “not a parti-
cle of evidence” had been given to prove the men were guilty. Roo-
sevelt was defiant in his Annual Message to Congress on December
3, 1906 (defiant in his crude attempts to gain southern White voters).
He warned “respectable colored people . . . not to harbor criminals,”
meaning the criminals of Brownsville. And then he turned to lynch-
ings: “The greatest existing cause of lynching is the perpetration,
especially by black men, of the hideous crime of rape.”4
President Roosevelt was speaking to a national choir of scholars. In
Pure Sociology (1903), Brown sociologist and former abolitionist Lester
Ward had claimed that Black men who lusted after and raped White
women and the White mobs who lynched them in retaliation were both
ordered by their racial nature to do so. In Lynch Law (1905), Wellesley
reat hite opes 297

economist James Elbert Cutler argued that in executing criminals, the
White mobs were “merely [acting] in their sovereign capacity.” Even
Du Bois complained, in a 1904 Atlanta University study (“Some Notes
on Negro Crime, Particularly in Georgia”), that there were “enough
well authenticated cases of brutal assaults on women by black men” to
“make every Negro bow his head in shame.” Negroes must recognize,
he said, their responsibility for their own so-called worst classes.5
When Black criminality ceased, lynchings would cease, and Black
criminality could cease through education at “schools like Hampton
and Tuskegee,” President Roosevelt suggested. While in past years
Booker T. Washington had rejoiced when Roosevelt had promoted
his program, this time he probably felt uneasy. Given advance notice,
Washington begged Roosevelt to reconsider the discharge, knowing
the Tuskegee Machine would also feel the wrath of Black America.
As Washington fell with Roosevelt, Du Bois’s Talented Tenth rose in

THEODORE ROOSEVELT DID not become toxic in White communities. His

groomed presidential successor, William Howard Taft, cruised to vic-
tory, weeks before African Americans lauded a victory of their own
on December 26, 1908. At the center of the victory was a Texas-born
colored heavyweight champion, the first counterpunching boxer in a
sport of brawlers, who had finally received his shot at the heavyweight
championship and knocked out Tommy Burns in Sydney, Australia.
“No event in forty years has given more satisfaction to the colored
people of this country than has the signal victory of Jack Johnson,”
reported the Richmond Planet. Almost immediately, the cry for a “Great
White Hope” went up to redeem Whiteness. All eyes turned to retired
heavyweight champion James J. Jeffries.
When the freely smiling Jack Johnson stepped from the Canadian-
Australian liner onto the docks of Vancouver on March 9, 1909,
American reporters peppered him with questions about whether he
would fight Jeffries. And then they noticed the most newsworthy ele-
ment of all for racist America: the champion’s “white wife, a former
298 tamped from the Beginning
Philadelphia woman who threw in her lot with him,” as newspaper
readers found out in the Associated Press dispatch.
Jack Johnson’s earlier “heartaches” with two Black women had
caused him to date primarily White women. Johnson loathed that “no
matter how colored women feel toward a man, they don’t spoil him and
pamper him and build up his ego.” White women did, and thus they
were superior partners, in Johnson’s version of gender racism. In actu-
ality, some White women refused to build up their man’s ego, while
some Black women catered to their man’s ego. But by 1909, the gender
racism of the submissive White woman and the hard Black woman was
attracting patriarchal Black men to White women—just as the gender
racism of the weak Black man being unable to handle the hard Black
woman had attracted some Black women to the strong White man;
and just as the gender racism of hypersexual Black people, embod-
ied in the large penis or buttocks, attracted some White people to
Black people; and just as the assimilationist belief that the Whiter and
straighter the skin and hair, the more beautiful a person was, attracted
Black people to (light and) White people. All these racist myths only
hardened over the next century as Americans became better able to
act on their interracial attractions in public. What did love have to do
with those interracial attractions based in racist ideas? Only the cou-
ples knew. There were many interracial relationships not based in racist
ideas. But how many were, and how many were not? Only the couples
The most famous Black man in America quickly became the most
hated Black man in America. By 1908, Johnson had won three of the
four greatest prizes of patriarchal White masculinity—wealth, the
heavyweight title, and the White woman. Taft winning the White
House hardly could calm the fury of White men, especially when Jack
Johnson went on to flaunt his White woman, his wealth, and his title.7
“If the black man wins, thousands and thousands of his ignorant
brothers will misinterpret his victory as justifying claims to much
more than mere physical equality with their white neighborhoods,”
predicted a writer in the New York Times months before the biggest
sporting event in American history on July 4, 1910. It was the first
reat hite opes 299

to be reported live through wireless telegraphy. The former heavy-
weight champion, the mammoth Jim Jeffries, dubbed the “Great
White Hope,” came out of retirement to seek the heavyweight title
for the White race and win it back from the nation’s most hated and
beloved man, Jack Johnson. The match was held in Reno, Nevada,
before 12,000 raging White spectators. Johnson knocked Jeffries out
in the fifteenth round, sending a surge of excitement through Black
America and a surge of fury through racist America. Racist mobs tried
to beat Black bodies back down, and racist writers tried to beat Black
minds back down. “Do not swell your chest too much,” warned the Los
Angeles Times. “No man will think a bit higher of you because your com-
plexion is the same as that of the victor at Reno.” Later, in Knuckles and
Gloves (1922), London boxing aficionado John Gilbert explained that
White men were “at a disadvantage” in boxing because of their “phys-
ical inequality.” The US government soon accomplished what White
boxers failed to do: knocking out Jack Johnson, though only in a met-
aphorical sense. He was arrested on trumped-up charges of transport-
ing a prostitute (or rather a White woman) across state lines. After
skipping bail, he lived abroad for seven years before turning himself in,
and then he spent almost a year in jail.8

WITH RACIST AMERICANS hungry for the restoration of superior White

masculinity after Johnson knocked it down and out, a pulp fiction
writer served them what they needed. Edgar Rice Burroughs, who
lived in Johnson’s stomping ground of Chicago, had been moved by
Henry Morgan Stanley’s nineteenth-century productions of Africa’s
savagery. In All-Story Magazine in October 1912, Americans first tasted
Burroughs’s novel Tarzan of the Apes.
Tarzan tells the story of an orphan infant of White parents aban-
doned in Central Africa who is raised by the she-ape Kala in a com-
munity of apes. The orphan, John Clayton, is named “Tarzan” by the
apes; it means “White skin” in their language. As he grows up, Tar-
zan becomes the community’s most skilled hunter and warrior, more
skilled than any of the nearby ape-Africans. He eventually finds his
300 tamped from the Beginning
parents’ cabin and teaches himself to read. In subsequent stories, Tar-
zan protects a White woman named Jane from ravishing Black men
and apes all around her. Tarzan goes on to teach his children, the Afri-
cans, how to fight and grow food.
It is hard to imagine a more famous fictional character during the
twentieth century than Tarzan—and it is hard to imagine a more rac-
ist plot than what Burroughs wrote up in the Tarzan adventure series
books, which he was writing and publishing almost up until his death
in 1950. The plot became a Hollywood staple, reappearing again and
again, most recently in the 2009 blockbuster Avatar. Burroughs made
the association between animals, savages, and Africa permanent in the
American mind. The defining message of the Tarzan series was clear:
whether on Wall Street or in the forests of Central Africa, swinging
through Greek literature or swinging from trees, White people will
do it better than the African apelike children, so much better that
Whites will always, the world over, become teachers of African peo-
ple. Forget Jack Johnson’s heavyweight title, White men had some-
thing better now. They had Tarzan, the instant sensation, a cultural
icon for the ages, the character that inspired comic strips, merchan-
dise, twenty-seven sequels, and forty-five motion pictures, the first
appearing in 1918.9

W. E. B. DU BOIScouldn’t have cared less about Jack Johnson and boxing

in 1909. He was worried about his biography of the antislavery activ-
ist John Brown. The darling of White liberal America—the publisher
of the Evening Post and The Nation and the grandson of William Lloyd
Garrison—had also published a biography of Brown that year. Oswald
Garrison Villard’s biography was widely hailed as definitive and it sold
well. Du Bois’s sales were as disappointing as the reviews. Black schol-
ars were routinely ignored by the White media and by White readers,
even when they had nationally recognizable names, like Du Bois. “We
rated merely as Negroes studying Negroes,” Du Bois recalled, “and
after all, what had Negroes to do with America or science?” What did
science have to do with the fierce fight against the Tuskegee Machine
reat hite opes 301

and Jim Crow segregation? “What with all my dreaming, studying,
and teaching was I going to do in this fierce fight?” Du Bois asked. Los-
ing faith in scientific persuasion, he decided to “lead and inspire and
decide.” He left Atlanta University in the summer of 1910 and moved
to New York to become the founding editor of The Crisis, the organ
of the recently founded National Association for the Advancement of
Colored People (NAACP).10
At the NAACP, Du Bois butted heads with Oswald Garrison Vil-
lard, who along with Du Bois was one of the co-founders of the new
organization. Like his grandfather, Villard was more of an assimilation-
ist than an antiracist, and he looked upon Black people as social prob-
lems. Then again, while his grandfather had loved aggressive antiracist
Blacks, such as early Black feminist Maria Stewart, Villard “naturally
expected” African Americans “to be humble and thankful or certainly
not assertive and aggressive,” Du Bois accurately noted. For instance,
Villard tried, unsuccessfully, to push Ida B. Wells-Barnett out of the
Committee of Forty, which had been responsible for organizing the
Assimilationists and antiracists launched the NAACP at a crucial
moment. Segregationists had just launched their eugenics movement,
demonstrating the progression of their racist policies and the racist
ideas to justify them. Social Darwinism had fully immigrated to the
United States. In 1910, former University of Chicago biologist Charles
Davenport secured some financial support from a railroad heiress to
establish the Eugenics Record Office at the nation’s first center dedi-
cated to improving the nation’s genetic stock, the Cold Spring Harbor
Laboratory in New York. Davenport was the son of an abolitionist and
had studied at Harvard during Du Bois’s tenure. Davenport sought to
prove one of the most oppressive figments of the human imagination:
that personality and mental traits were inherited, and that superior
racial groups inherited superior traits.
“So you see that the seed sown by you is still sprouting in dis-
tant countries,” Davenport wrote to England’s pioneering eugenicist
Frances Galton, Darwin’s cousin, in 1910. And the vines of eugenics
surely sprouted after 1910, watered incessantly by Davenport and the
302 tamped from the Beginning
250 eugenicists whom he trained. “Permanent advance” would only
come about by “securing the best ‘blood,’” he wrote in the movement’s
manifesto, Heredity in Relation to Eugenics (1911). The eugenics movement
quickly rushed into American popular culture: in Better Babies con-
tests, in magazines, in college courses, in popular lectures, and in a
society assessing moguls and criminals as having good or bad genes,
good or bad “blood.” It did not matter that people did not change after
blood transfusions. Nor did it matter that eugenicists never uncov-
ered any evidence proving that heredity shaped behavior. The eugen-
ics movement created believers, not evidence. Americans wanted to
believe that the racial, ethnic, class, and gender hierarchies in the
United States were natural and normal. They wanted to believe that
they were passing their traits on to their children.12
As eugenics gained ground, Du Bois used The Crisis to combat the
movement and to publicize “those facts and arguments which show
the danger of race prejudice.” As part of that agenda, he printed a
piece by Franz Boas, prepping readers for Boas’s 1911 magnum opus,
The Mind of Primitive Man. Boas echoed the old creed of assimilation-
ists in The Mind of Primitive Man: rejection of the segregationist “theory
of hereditary inferiority” and belief that the “complete loss” of Afri-
can cultures and the pressures of slavery and discrimination had made
Black people inferior. “In short, there is every reason to believe that
the negro when given facility and opportunity, will be perfectly able
to fulfill the duties of citizenship as well as his white neighbor,” Boas
wrote. “It may be that he will not produce as many great men as the
white race, and that his average achievement will not quite reach the
level of the average achievement of the white race; but there will be
endless numbers who will be able to outrun their white competitors.”13
“North American negroes . . . in culture and language,” Boas said,
were “essentially European.” Boas was “absolutely opposed to all kinds
of attempts to foster racial solidarity,” including among his own Jewish
people. He, like other assimilationists, saw the United States as a melt-
ing pot in which all the cultural colors became absorbed together (into
White Americanness). Ironically, assimilationists like Boas hated racial
solidarity, but kept producing racist ideas based on racial solidarity.14
reat hite opes 303

Boas composed a preface for another popular book in 1911, Half
a Man: The Status of the Negro in New York, by NAACP co-founder and
scholar Mary White Ovington. While pointing out some racial dis-
crimination, she put a new statistical spin on the old racist stereotype
of the oversexed, irresponsible Black woman. The higher the ratio of
Black women to men, she said, made these “surplus women” prone to
prostitution and prone to playing “havoc with their neighbors’ sons,
even with their neighbors’ husbands.” Along the same lines, social-
work forerunner Jane Addams alleged, in The Crisis, that Black moth-
ers were less able than Italian mothers to control their girls’ sexual
behavior. Ida B. Wells-Barnett could not let these attacks from White
women go by unchecked. Black women, she wrote, had the “same love
for husbands and children, the same ambitions for well-ordered fami-
lies that white women have.”15
As part of his effort to expand readership and demonstrate the
capability of Black folk, Du Bois unveiled a popular section in The Cri-
sis on Black firsts in June 1911—those individual Black professionals
breaking through racial barriers. As America desegregated over the
next century, praises rained down on Black firsts, such as hair indus-
try mogul Madame C. J. Walker, and Chicago Defender founder Rob-
ert Abbott, who became the first Black millionaires. At their antiracist
best, praises for Black firsts turned into demonstrations against racial
discrimination, and demands for Black seconds and tenths and thirti-
eths. At their racist worst, Americans held up Black firsts as extraordi-
nary Negroes, or as signposts of racial progress. As more Blacks broke
free from the discriminatory barriers, society could find more ways to
ignore the barriers themselves, and could even argue that something
else was holding Black people back. With every Black first, the blame
shifted to those Black people who failed to break away. Du Bois’s The
Crisis tried to assign blame to both: the Black have-nots, and the dis-
criminatory barriers. But accommodating Black firsts advocated for a
greater Black work ethic as a better social policy than action against
discriminatory bars. If some could break away, the logic went, then
all could, if they worked hard enough. Racist logic didn’t have to be
logical; it just had to make common sense. And so, as much as Black
304 tamped from the Beginning
firsts broke racial barriers, the publicity around Black firsts sometimes,
if not most times, reinforced racist ideas blaming Blacks and not the
remaining discriminatory barriers.16

BY 1913, THE CRISIS had accumulated a captivated audience: captivated

by the leadership of the Talented Tenth and the NAACP, captivated
by popular sections of the publication, such as Black firsts, and capti-
vated, more than anything else, by the brilliant editorial pen of W. E. B.
Du Bois. In March, Du Bois joined the rest of the publishing nation in
reporting on the first major suffrage parade in Washington, DC, orga-
nized by the segregated National American Woman Suffrage Asso-
ciation. In their march down Pennsylvania Avenue, 5,000 suffragists
faced a funnel of White male policemen and hecklers. In The Crisis,
Du Bois reported the “remarkable” contrast between the nasty White
male opposition and the reportedly respectful Black male observers.
In a rush of biting anti-assimilationist sarcasm, he asked his Black male
readers: “Does it not make you burn with shame to be a mere black
man when such mighty deeds are done by the Leaders of Civilization?
Does it not make you ‘ashamed of your race’? Does it not make you
‘want to be white’?”17
A few years later, Du Bois published a forum on women’s suffrage,
particularly for the Black woman. Not many of the Black contributors
advanced the popular (and sexist) argument of White suffragists: that
women’s innate (childlike) morality gave them a distinct entitlement
to the vote. But educator Nannie H. Burroughs took this argument
and refashioned it. She was one of the more articulate and hard-nosed
leaders of her time. Back in 1904, Burroughs had indicted racist col-
orism in “Not Color But Character.” There were legions of Black men
“who would rather marry a woman for her color than her charac-
ter,” Burroughs charged. And so, Black women went about trying to
change their appearance, straightening their hair and bleaching their
skin to look like White women. “What every woman who . . . straight-
ens out needs, is not her appearance changed but her mind changed,”
Burroughs charged. “If Negro women would use half of their time
reat hite opes 305

they spend on trying to get White, to get better, the race would move
On the suffrage issue in The Crisis forum, Burroughs skipped over
into racist ideas, and especially into the idea of the weak Black male
selling out his vote (and the strong Black woman not selling out hers).
This gender racism had been articulated by everyone from Anna Julia
Cooper to Frances Ellen Harper, W. E. B. Du Bois, and southern seg-
regationists James K. Vardaman and Ben “Pitchfork” Tillman. Immoral,
corrupt, and weak Black men had “bartered and sold” the vote, Bur-
roughs argued. “The Negro woman . . . needs the ballot to get back,
by the wise use of it, what the Negro man has lost by the misuse of it,”
Burroughs argued. In claiming that Black women would not have sold
out their votes, Burroughs was simultaneously rewriting history and
regarding Black women as politically superior to Black men. She was
ignoring the history of Black male and female resistance to the ambush
of laws, violence, and economic intimidation that forcibly stole Black
male voting power.19
Then again, Burroughs may have still been upset about that loud
minority of Black male voters who went for the Democrat in the 1912
presidential election. Though Woodrow Wilson, a Virginia-born
Democrat, was a former Princeton political scientist who had made
a name for himself conjuring up the Black terrors of Reconstruction
and defending the re-enslaving White South, he had secured Du Bois’s
vote and the votes of thousands of other Black men by pledging mod-
eration on race. Once in office, Wilson gave southern segregationists a
dominant influence in his administration, while encouraging Blacks to
focus on uplift suasion. W. E. B. Du Bois felt hoodwinked. An Amer-
ican politician had once again played Black voters like a drum, and
forced them to hear the deadening beat of segregation in Washington,
DC, and federal offices across the South.20
During his first term, Wilson enjoyed the first-ever film screening
at the White House, and the selection was a stark symbol of his ideas
about race. The 1915 film was Hollywood’s first feature-length stu-
dio production, D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation, based on Thomas
Dixon’s popular novel The Clansmen. The film signaled the birth of
306 tamped from the Beginning
Hollywood and of the motion-picture industry in the United States.
It became the newest visual medium by which to circulate racist ideas,
eclipsing the fading minstrel shows. The silent film depicted Recon-
struction as an era of corrupt Black supremacists petrifying innocent
Whites. At the climax, a Black male rapist (played by a White actor in
blackface) pursues a White woman into the woods until she leaps to
her death. “Lynch him! Lynch him!” moviegoers shouted in Houston,
and nearly one hundred Blacks were actually lynched in 1915. In the
end, the victim’s brother in the film organizes Klansmen to regain con-
trol of southern society. A White Jesus—brown-haired, brown-eyed,
and white-robed—appears to bless the triumph of White supremacy
as the film concludes.21
“It is like writing history with lightning,” Wilson reportedly said
after the film. “And my only regret is that it is all so terribly true.”
Millions of White northerners and southerners packed movie houses
beginning on February 8, 1915, to watch the widely believed truth of
the Reconstruction era. By January 1916, more than 3 million people
had viewed the film in New York alone. It was the nation’s highest-
grossing film for two decades, and it enabled millions of Americans
to feel redeemed in their lynchings and segregation policies. The film
revitalized the Ku Klux Klan, drawing millions of Americans by the
1920s into the club that terrorized Jews, immigrants, socialists, Cath-
olics, and Blacks.
Angry at its terrible lies, Black communities everywhere protested
The Birth of a Nation. In the final days of his life, Booker T. Washington
tried to accomplish behind the scenes what the NAACP and other
civil rights groups were trying to do openly: block its showing. They
failed. Du Bois took a different approach, challenging the film’s histor-
ical racism in his sweeping history The Negro, published right on time
in 1915. He tore up the fairytales of the non-African ancient Egypt,
the absence of sophisticated pre-modern African states, the horrors of
Reconstruction, and so on. He had seemingly dropped his biological
concept of race. But he had not dropped his racist notions about the
traits of the Negro, whom he termed “the most lovable of men.”22
reat hite opes 307

For all the northern activists’ efforts to block The Birth of a Nation—
or to rewrite the history it depicted, or to challenge the mass disen-
franchisement of Black men that it endorsed—southern Black activists
did infinitely more. They protested southern segregationists with their
feet. By the time they finished, they had indeed given birth to a new

The Birth of a Nation

“WAR IS HELL but there are things worse than Hell, as every Negro
knows.” W. E. B. Du Bois had a knack for packaging the complex feel-
ings of Black folk into words. After World War I cut off immigration
from Europe, labor recruiters from northern industries headed into
southern towns searching for a new labor supply. Even if The Birth of a
Nation had never appeared before excited southern audiences, south-
ern Blacks would probably have still been all ears to northern indus-
trial recruiters.1
Then again, southern Blacks did not need these recruiters to entice
them to escape a place that in some ways was worse than hell. During
the Great War, Black people once again used their legs as activism,
escaping from rural towns to southern cities, from southern cities to
border-state cities, and from border-state cities to northern cities in
what became known as the “Great Migration.” In the first mass antirac-
ist movement of the twentieth century, migrants eschewed beliefs in
the New South’s racial progress, in the notion of Jim Crow being better
than slavery, and in the claim that Blacks’ political-economic plight was
their fault. Segregationists tried to slow the migration through racist
ideas, ideas put into action when they terrorized northern labor recruit-
ers, when they arrested migrants, and even when they tried to improve
labor conditions. But nothing and no one could stop this movement.
When migrants reached northern cities, they faced the same dis-
crimination they thought they had left behind, and they heard the
same racist ideas. The Black and White natives of northern cities

he Birth of a ation 309

looked down on the migrants and their different (though equal) south-
ern or rural cultural ways as culturally backward. They looked at their
families as dysfunctional. And they called these migrants, who had
moved hundreds of miles seeking work and a better life, lazy.
In 1918, Harvard-trained historian Carter G. Woodson, who had
just founded the first Black history journal and professional associa-
tion, correctly predicted that “the maltreatment of Negroes will be
nationalized.” Migrants faced segregation in the northern “receiving
stations,” as journalist Isabel Wilkerson termed them in 2010. Racist
Harlemites, for instance, organized to fight off what they called the
“a growing menace” of “black hordes,” and ended up segregating their
communities. Over the course of six decades, some 6 million Black
southerners left their homes, transforming Black America from a pri-
marily southern population to a national and urban one, and segrega-
tionist ideas became nationalized and urbanized in the process.2
The Great Migration overshadowed a smaller migration of people
from the Caribbean and Africa to the United States. A young, well-
read, charismatic Jamaican with a passion for African people and an
understanding of racism arrived in New York in March 1916 to raise
funds for a school in Jamaica. Seeking out Du Bois, the stocky, dark-
skinned Marcus Mosiah Garvey visited the New York offices of the
NAACP. Du Bois was absent, and Garvey was “unable to tell whether
he was in a white office or that of the NAACP.” The plethora of White
and biracial assimilationists on the NAACP’s staff, and all the biracial
assimilationists in leadership positions in Black America, no doubt con-
tributed to Garvey’s decision to remain in Harlem and build his Uni-
versal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) there. His organizing
principles were global African solidarity, the beauty of dark skin and
African American culture, and global African self-determination.
“Africa for the Africans,” he liked to say. His UNIA quickly attracted
antiracists, Black working people, and Black migrants and immigrants
who did not like the colorism, class racism, assimilationism, and nativ-
ism of the NAACP and the Talented Tenth.3
Marcus Garvey and his admirers were not the only people
observing the growing population and power of biracial Americans.
310 tamped from the Beginning
Scholars were taking note. Two years after Garvey’s jarring visit to
the NAACP’s headquarters, sociologist and eugenicist Edward Bryon
Reuter finished The Mulatto in the United States (1918). From his base at
the University of Iowa, Reuter made a name for himself arguing that
anything Black people achieved was in fact the achievement of bira-
cial people. He situated biracial people as a sort of racial middle class,
below superior Whites, but above inferior “full Blacks,” as they were
called. (Biracial people often rejected the racist idea of their inferiority
to Whites, but some consumed and reproduced the racist idea of their
superiority to Blacks.) Reuter stamped biracial people as a “peculiar
people”—despite their success—around the same time that homosex-
uals were being marked as a “peculiar people.”4
Reuter reinforced the fundamentally racist idea that biracial peo-
ple were abnormal. Homosexuals, like biracial people, also were consid-
ered abnormal, and the two were sometimes considered in the same
breath as “peculiar people” situated in an in-between state. “Between
the whitest of men and the blackest negro stretches out a vast line of
intermediary races,” proclaimed one of the earlier advocates of homo-
sexual rights, Xavier Mayne, in The Intersexes (1908). “Nature abhors the
absolute, delights in . . . the half-steps, the between-beings.” Passing
bisexuals and biracial people quietly disrupted the so-called normality
of heterosexuality and racial purity.5
Eugenicists promoting the need for maintaining the purity of the
White race endlessly berated interracial reproduction. In an explosive
wartime book published in 1916 called The Passing of the Great Race, New
York lawyer Madison Grant constructed a racial-ethnic ladder with Nor-
dics (the new term for Anglo-Saxons) at the top and Jews, Italians, the
Irish, Russians, and all non-Whites on lower rungs. He reconstructed a
world history of rising and falling civilizations based on the “amount of
Nordic blood in each nation.” “[The] races vary intellectually and mor-
ally just as they do physically,” Grant suggested. “It has taken us fifty
years to learn that speaking English, wearing good clothes and going to
school and church does not transform a Negro into a white man.” This
segregationist passionately told assimilationists that their efforts were
he Birth of a ation 311

bound to fail. Black people were incapable of development and could
not become White. Grant revised and reissued his book three times in
five years and it was translated into several foreign languages. Publish-
ers were barely able to supply the voracious demand for segregation-
ist ideas and for the dashing eugenicist movement as White theorists
attempted to normalize the social inequities of the day.6
When Germany surrendered in the Great War, an embittered
Austrian soldier sprinted into German politics, where he gained some
cheers for his nasty speeches against Marxists and Jews. In 1924,
Adolf Hitler was jailed for an attempted revolution. He used the time
in prison—and Madison Grant’s book—to write his magnum opus,
Mein Kampf. “The highest aim of human existence is . . . the conser-
vation of race,” Hitler famously wrote. The Nazi czar later thanked
Grant for writing The Passing of the Great Race, which Hitler called “my
Bible.” 7
Eugenicist ideas also became part of the fledgling discipline of
psychology and the basis of newly minted standardized intelligence
tests. Many believed these tests would prove once and for all the exis-
tence of natural racial hierarchies. In 1916, Stanford eugenicist Lewis
Terman and his associates “perfected” the IQ test based on the dubi-
ous theory that a standardized test could actually quantify and objec-
tively measure something as intricate and subjective and varied as
intelligence across different experiential groups. The concept of gen-
eral intelligence did not exist. When scholars tried to point out this
mirage, it seemed to be as much in the eye of the beholder as general
beauty, another nonexistent phenomenon. But Terman managed to
make Americans believe that something that was inherently subjective
was actually objective and measurable. Terman predicted that the IQ
test would show “enormously significant racial differences in general
intelligence, differences which cannot be wiped out by any scheme
of mental culture.” Standardized tests became the newest “objective”
method of proving Black intellectual inferiority and justifying discrim-
ination, and a multimillion-dollar testing industry quickly developed
in schools and workplaces.8
312 tamped from the Beginning
IQ tests were administered to 1.75 million soldiers in 1917 and
1918. American Psychological Association president and Princeton
psychologist Carl C. Brigham used the results of the army intelligence
tests to conjure up a genetic intellectual racial hierarchy, and a few
years later, he constructed the SAT test for college admissions. White
soldiers scored better, and for Brigham that was because of their supe-
rior White blood. African Americans in the North scored better than
African Americans in the South, and Brigham argued that northern
Blacks had a higher concentration of White blood, and that these
genetically superior African Americans had sought better opportuni-
ties up North because of their greater intelligence.9

AN ARMISTICE SIGNED on November 11, 1918, ended the fighting in

World War I. It took six months of negotiations at the Paris Peace Con-
ference for colonial powers to come to an agreement on the Treaty of
Versailles. W. E. B. Du Bois ventured to Paris in 1918 and sent back
gripping letters and editorials to The Crisis. He shared the racism faced
by Black soldiers, adding to the wartime press reports filled with sto-
ries of Black heroism. But this storyline of Black heroism changed in
White newspapers to the storyline of Black deficiency when the offi-
cers, who were disproportionately White and southern, returned to
the United States and began telling their own war stories to reporters.
As a collection, Du Bois’s Parisian dispatches and activities displayed
his lingering double-consciousness of assimilationism and antiracism.
Du Bois witnessed steadily fierce opposition among the victors at the
Paris Peace Conference to granting independence to colonial peoples.
In “Reconstruction and Africa,” published in the February 1919 issue
of The Crisis, Du Bois rejected, in antiracist fashion, the notion that
Europe was the “Benevolent Civilizer of Africa.” He declared, “White
men are merely juggling with words—or worse—when they declare
that the withdrawal of Europe from Africa will plunge the continent
into chaos.” On the other assimilationist hand, Du Bois helped orga-
nize the First Pan-African Congress that month in Paris, which called
on the Paris Peace Conference to adopt “gradual” decolonization and
he Birth of a ation 313

civil rights. Du Bois desired a “chance for peaceful and accelerated
development of black folk.”10
At long last, the parties signed the Treaty of Versailles on June
28, 1919. The massive German state was forced to pay reparations.
France, Belgium, South Africa, Portugal, and England received Ger-
many’s prized African colonies. The League of Nations was created
to rule the world. The Wilson administration joined with England and
Australia in rejecting Japan’s proposal that the League’s charter confess
a commitment to the equality of all peoples. At least President Wil-
son was being honest. He feared that the relatively good treatment
Black soldiers had received in France had “gone to their heads.” To
Wilson’s racist Americans, there was nothing more dangerous than a
self-respecting Black person with antiracist expectations of immedi-
ate equality, rather than the gradual equality of assimilationists or the
permanent inequality of segregationists. In 1919, many Black soldiers
returned to their towns, with antiracist expectations, as New Negroes.
And they were greeted by New Negroes, too.11
These New Negroes heeded Du Bois’s plea. “By the God of
Heaven, we are cowards and jackasses if now that the war is over, we
do not marshal every ounce of our brain and brawn to fight a sterner,
long, more unbending battle against the forces of hell in our own land,”
Du Bois wrote in “We Return Fighting,” in The Crisis of May 1919. The
same US Postal Service that for decades had delivered White newspa-
pers doused in lynching kerosene refused to deliver this Crisis, judg-
ing Du Bois’s words as “unquestionably violent and extremely likely
to excite a considerable amount of racial prejudice (if that has not
already reached its maximum amongst the Negroes).” Du Bois’s own
false 1901 construction of antiracists as being filled with revenge and
anger against White people—instead of anger against racist ideas and
discrimination—had finally come back to bite him. He had spent his
early years urging Black people to calmly focus their efforts on their
own moral uplift, on uplift suasion, to change racist minds. He had
tried to provide White Americans with the scientific facts of racial dis-
parities, and he had believed that producers of racist ideas and policies
could be persuaded through reason to end their production. He had
314 tamped from the Beginning
spent his early years ridiculing leaders like Ida B. Wells-Barnett and
Bishop Henry McNeal Turner as unwise, as violent, and as prejudiced
when they had passionately called on Black people to fight. But every
year, as the failures of education and persuasion and uplift piled up, Du
Bois’s urgings for Black people to protest and fight became stronger
and more passionate. But then, he had to face the same criticism and
censorship that he had dished out to others earlier in his career. After
a week’s delay, postal officials finally delivered The Crisis. They had
found there were even more dangerous antiracist and socialist publi-
cations being edited by New Negroes, including Marcus Garvey’s The
Negro World.
How did those Americans still packing movie houses to watch
Tarzan and The Birth of a Nation, who were still spending their after-
noons reading The Passing of the Great Race, or attending Klan events, or
trying to segregate away Black migrants, respond to the New Negro?
James Weldon Johnson described their response during that year of
1919 as the “Red Summer” for all the blood that spilled in the deadliest
series of White invasions of Black neighborhoods since Reconstruc-
tion. Since racist ideas were not working on New Negroes, violence
came rushing forth in at least twenty-five US cities, as if to remind the
assertive New Negro of White rule. “If we must die, let it not be like
hogs,” Claude McKay’s booming poem of self-defense shouted in July.
“Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack, / Pressed to the
wall, dying, but fighting back!”12
Racist White newspapers, as was customary then as it is today,
tended to depict the Black victims as criminals, and the White crimi-
nals as victims. Black newspapers, as was also customary after dramatic
shows of self-defense, tended to play up the redemption of Black mas-
culinity. “At last our men had stood like men, struck back, were no
longer dumb driven cattle,” one Black woman rejoiced in The Crisis. For
racist White commentators, the Black men who supposedly instigated
the Red Summer were beastly cattle; to racist Black commentators,
these formerly beastly cattle, by striking back, had proven themselves
to be men after all. Racist ideas inflamed both sides in the Red Sum-
mer, and gender racism came out of the smoke, especially the horrible
he Birth of a ation 315

coughing silence about all those courageous Black women who had
defended their men and children and communities.13
The Wilson administration somehow conflated the Red Summer
with the postwar Red Scare, blaming anticapitalists for the carnage
instead of violent White racists. On September 27, 1919, 128 alien-
ated White socialists, inspired by the recent Russian Revolution, gath-
ered in Chicago to form the Communist Party of the United States of
America (CPUSA). “The racial oppression of the Negro is simply the
expression of his economic bondage and oppression, each intensifying
the other,” the CPUSA’s program declared, sounding eerily like the
founding racial program of the Socialist Party of America (SPA) in
1903. Since then, SPA leaders, such as the party’s five-time presidential
candidate, Eugene V. Debs, had tended to say that there was “no negro
question outside of the labor question.” Like their SPA predecessors,
CPUSA officials would also go on to raise capitalist exploitation over
racial discrimination, instead of leveling and challenging them both
at once. In their incomplete reading of the world’s political economy,
racism emerged out of capitalism, and therefore the problem of capi-
talism came before the problem of racism. The Communists theorized
that if they killed capitalism, racism would die, too—not knowing
that capitalism and racism had both emerged during the same long fif-
teenth century, and that since then, they had been mutually fortifying
each other while developing separately. The Communist of the CPUSA
admonished Blacks (and Whites) during the Red Summer to “realize
their misery is not due to race antagonism, but the lass antagonism”
between big business and labor.14
Big business was certainly producing and reproducing racist pol-
icies and ideas to divide and conquer the working class, decrease its
labor costs, and increase its political power. However, the CPUSA
downplayed or ignored the ways in which White laborers and unions
were discriminating against and degrading Black laborers to increase
their own wages, improve their own working conditions, and bolster
their own political power. And why would White labor not continue
ruling Black labor if labor gained political and economic control over
capital in the United States? The Communists did not address that;
316 tamped from the Beginning
nor did they address their own racist ideas during these formative
years, which were pointed out by the antiracist Blacks joining their
ranks. In seeking to unify the working class, CPUSA leaders focused
their early recruiting efforts on racist White laborers. They refused
to update Karl Marx’s scriptures to account for their deeply racial-
ized nation in 1919. CPUSA officials typically stayed silent on what it
might mean for the future of racism if a Communist revolution took
place that did not simultaneously support a revolution against racism.15
W. E. B. Du Bois was inspired by the red hot summer like never
before, and not just because he was excited about the New Negro, or
because he started closely reading (and updating) Karl Marx. In Feb-
ruary 1920, he put out the searing essays of Darkwater: Voices from Within
the Veil. Du Bois had wearily come to realize that the segregationist
“belief that black folk are sub-human” was not based on any lack of
knowledge: “It is simply passionate, deep-seated heritage, and as such
can be moved by neither argument nor fact.” In moving away from
educational persuasion, Du Bois finally began to turn instead toward
a singly antiracist consciousness. But he did not quite reach it. Instead
he wrote: “European culture—is it not better than any culture that
arose in Africa or Asia? It is.”16
After relegating modern African and Asian cultures, Du Bois
spoke out against “The Damnation of Women.” In Darkwater, Du Bois
did something for Black women that was rarely done: for “their worth”
and “their beauty” and “their promise, and for their hard past, I honor
the women of my race,” he said. But in honoring the Black woman, he
dishonored non-Black women and Black men, especially in their roles
as mothers and fathers. He described one global unhappy family. “The
father and his worship is Asia; Europe is the precocious, self-centered,
forward-striving child; but the land of the mother is and was Africa,”
he wrote. Nowhere was a mother’s love stronger and deeper than in
Africa. W. E. B. Du Bois—the son of a single mother—not surpris-
ingly declared, “It is mothers and mothers of mothers who seem to
count, while fathers are shadowy memories.”17
Du Bois followed in the long line of reformers who played up in
Black people what racists played down—in his case, he turned the
he Birth of a ation 317

global projection of the Black woman as the immoral anti-mother,
the anti-woman, into the global projection of the Black woman as the
moral super-mother, the super-woman. But whether redeeming or
degrading Black women, such projections spun reality, generalizing
the behavior of immoral individuals or motherly individuals, and in the
process propagating racist ideas. An antiracist sketch of Black women
would have depicted the same diversity of motherly and un-motherly
behavior found in all equally imperfect female racial groups.
For decades, diverse sketches of Black feminine behavior had
swayed heads and hips, minds and hearts, in buoyant juke joints.
Months after the release of Du Bois’s Darkwater, Mamie Robinson
brought out the first recording of the great antiracist art form of the
1920s. “Crazy Blues” became a best seller. Record companies capital-
ized on the blues craze among Black and White listeners alike. Robin-
son, “Ma” Rainey, Ida Cox, and Bessie Smith sang about Black women
as depressed and happy, as settling down and running around, as
hating and loving men, as gullible and manipulative, as sexually free
and sexually conforming, as assertive and passive, as migrating and
staying, as angels and as “Wild Women.” Blueswomen and their male
counterparts embraced African American cultural ways, despised the
strategy of trying to persuade Whites that Blacks were okay, and were
therefore despised by Talented Tenth assimilationists.18

FOR ALL ITS assimilationist ideas, Du Bois’s Darkwater: Voices from Within
the Veil was still too well spiced with antiracism for the bland tastes of
racist readers. Northern, southern, and foreign racist reviewers almost
unanimously condemned the book as a bitter madman’s “hymn of
racial hate,” or “what the southerner would write if he turned negro,”
as the socialist Harold Laski of the London School of Economics put
it. Meanwhile, the overwhelming response of Black readers, including
the legions of common sharecroppers and domestics, was that it was
“a milestone in the history of the Negro race,” as the Washington Bee
attested. Some antiracist New Negroes did not like some of the bland
moralizing and class racism of Darkwater. Yale alumnus William Ferris,
318 tamped from the Beginning
the editor of Garvey’s The Negro World, said Du Bois looked down
on the Black masses and their ailments “from the heights of his own
It was a charge hardly anyone could deny, especially after Du Bois’s
views on Marcus Garvey became known. Garvey’s movement would
collapse “in a short time,” Du Bois had allegedly said, and “his follow-
ers are the lowest type of Negroes, mostly from the West Indies.” The
reporter who published this quotation exhibiting class and ethnic rac-
ism probably caught Du Bois in a rancorous mood that August 1920.
All month long, Du Bois had had to watch and listen to the massive
parades and meetings of the first international convention of Garvey’s
UNIA. “We shall now organize the 400,000,000 Negroes of the world
into a vast organization to plant the banner of freedom on the great
continent of Africa,” Garvey had blared on August 2, 1920, to the
UNIA convention’s 25,000 enraptured delegates at Madison Square
Garden. The bombastic convention left the activist African world in
wondrous awe for months. Du Bois and the Talented Tenth, however,
felt deeply threatened by Garvey’s exposure of the touchy reality of
light skin privilege. “Garvey is an extraordinary leader of men,” Du
Bois admitted in The Crisis at the end of 1920. But it had been a mistake
for him to try to bring Caribbean color politics to the United States.
“American Negroes recognized no color line in or out of the race,” Du
Bois said, “and they will in the end punish the man who attempts to
establish it.”20
It was probably the silliest statement of Du Bois’s serious career.
He sounded as oblivious as the racists who had angered him for
decades by discounting the existence of the racial line. In denying the
color line, Du Bois discounted the existence of color discrimination,
in effect blaming darker Blacks for their disproportionate poverty. Du
Bois had eyes. He knew light skins dominated the most desirable polit-
ical and economic positions available to Blacks. In his own Talented
Tenth essay in 1903, he had mentioned twenty-one present and past
Black leaders, and all of them except Phillis Wheatley had been bira-
cial. No Ida B. Wells-Barnett or Callie House appeared. He probably
heard the circulating Black children’s rhyme: “If you’re white, you’re
he Birth of a ation 319

right / If you’re yellow, you’re mellow / If you’re brown, stick around /
If you’re black, get back.” Du Bois knew that elite, light-skinned folks
were still using brown paper bags and rulers to bar dark-skinned folks
from churches, jobs, civic groups, historically Black colleges, Black
fraternities and sororities, and even neighborhoods and other types of
Du Bois was probably not oblivious. More likely, he and his light-
skinned peers felt their color privilege was threatened by discussions
of colorism and color equality, not unlike Whites who felt their racial
privilege threatened by discussions of racism and racial equality. And
so, Du Bois copied his enemies: he used racist ideas and his punishing
power to silence the antiracist challenge to color discrimination.

THE CONFLICT BETWEEN Du Bois and Garvey reached its peak in the early
1920s, when they sparred over the question of interracial relations. In
October 1921, President Warren G. Harding went to Birmingham to
hunt up southern support, and he insisted that “racial amalgamation
there cannot be.” While The Crisis reprimanded Harding for rejecting
interracial relations, Garvey hailed the president for his endorsement
of racial separatism. In contrast to Madison Grant’s eugenicists, who
were advocating White racial purity, and opposing interracial repro-
duction due to the intrusion of inferior Black blood, Garvey advocated
Black racial purity, opposing interracial reproduction due to the intru-
sion of different White blood. Assimilationists often erroneously con-
fused Garvey’s separatists, who actually believed in separate but equal,
with segregationists, who really believed in separate but unequal. It
was Garvey’s assimilationist opponents who were constructing Black
integration into White spaces as progress. And these assimilationists
also were conjoining Garvey’s separatist efforts of racial solidarity
with segregationist efforts to maintain the racial exclusion of inferior
peoples. Garvey’s assimilationist opponents failed to realize that there
was nothing inherently tolerant or intolerant about Americans vol-
untarily separating themselves or integrating themselves. Americans
routinely did separate and integrate themselves, voluntarily, based on
320 tamped from the Beginning
religion, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, profession, class, race, and social
interests. Separatist organizing can be racist (and when it is, it turns
into segregation), if the emphasis is on excluding inferior peoples.
Interracial organizing can be racist (and when it is, it turns into assim-
ilation), if the emphasis is on elevating inferior Blacks by putting them
under the auspices of superior Whites. That was Garvey’s somewhat
false impression of the interracial program of the NAACP.22
Du Bois and Garvey represented a larger and nastier battle within
Black America among assimilationists, antiracists, and separatists,
between the classes, between natives and West Indians, between
nationalists and Pan-Africanists, and between light skins and dark
skins. But Garvey had a much bigger enemy trying to silence him:
the US government. In June 1923, he was convicted of mail fraud.
Out on bail, he ventured to Liberia—as did Du Bois. Upon his return,
Du Bois’s anger and sense of privilege got the better of him when in
May 1924 he called Garvey the “most dangerous enemy of the Negro
race in America and in the world.” With his days of freedom num-
bered, Garvey struck back against Du Bois and the Talented Tenth
when he presided over the UNIA convention that August. His anti-
racist affirmations had turned to blisteringly racist ridicule. Black
people were “the most careless and indifferent people in the world,”
Garvey proclaimed to thousands at Madison Square Garden. Appeals
exhausted, six months later Garvey walked into federal prison, only to
be deported three years later.23
Weeks before Garvey’s final UNIA convention, delegates gathered
for the Democratic National Convention of 1924 at that very same
Madison Square Garden. The Democrats came within a single vote of
endorsing the anti-Black, anti-Catholic, anti-Semitic platform promul-
gated by the powerful Ku Klux Klan. The platform would have been
anti-immigrant, too, if Congress had not passed the Immigration Act
on a bipartisan vote earlier in the year. It was authored by Washing-
ton State Republican Albert Johnson, who was well-schooled in anti-
Asian racist ideas and well-connected to Madison Grant. Politicians
seized on the powerful eugenicist demands for immigration restric-
tions on people from all countries outside of Nordic northwestern
he Birth of a ation 321

Europe. President Calvin Coolidge, the Massachusetts Republican
who replaced Harding after his sudden death in 1923, happily signed
the legislation before his reelection. “Biological laws tell us that cer-
tain divergent people will not mix or blend,” Coolidge wrote as
vice-president-elect in 1921. “The Nordics propagate themselves suc-
cessfully. With other races, the outcome shows deterioration on both
After passage of the Immigration Act of 1924, eugenicists quickly
turned back to focusing on the segregation of non-Nordics in the
United States. Ironically, the act’s side effects slowed the pace of the
eugenic agenda. The act reduced Nordic fears of non-Nordics tak-
ing over the country, and it energized the intellectual struggle of
the assimilationists to get non-Whites to comply with White ideals
of American homogeneity. The Catholic, pro-immigrant Knights of
Columbus Historical Commission even financed the publication of
several books focusing on the contributions of different racial and eth-
nic groups. These included The Germans in the Making of America (since
the Germans were hated in the interwar period), The Jews in the Making
of America, and Du Bois’s The Gift of Black Folk: The Negro in the Making of
America (1924).
Unlike eugenicists and assimilationists, Du Bois desired a multira-
cial pluralism, where differences were acknowledged, embraced, and
equalized in antiracist fashion, not graded, suppressed, and ignored.
But instead of merely sharing the cultural differences of African Amer-
ican spirituality, artistry, and music, Du Bois graded Black people him-
self in racist fashion, echoing the view of the nation’s leading urban
sociologist, Robert Park of the University of Chicago. The Negro was
“primarily an artist, loving life for its own sake,” Park wrote. “He is, so
to speak, the lady among races,” and was interested in “physical things
rather than . . . subjective states and objects of introspection.” Du Bois
likewise said the Negro had an unmatched sense of “sound and color,”
along with “humility” and “a certain spiritual joyousness: a sensuous,
tropical love of life, in vivid contrast to the cool and cautious New
England reason.” After all these years, Du Bois was still helping to rein-
force Harriet Beecher Stowe’s ideas on the soft Black soul and the hard
322 tamped from the Beginning
White mind. It seemed that nothing could erase this wholeheartedly
racist idea from the mind of W. E. B. Du Bois. And when he attended
a historic event in March 1924, Du Bois probably felt that his longtime
advocacy of Blacks’ superior artistic gifts was finally paying off. He
had hoped that Black artists could use the media and their creativity
to persuade away racist ideas. Yet another faint hope in persuasion was
about to fail another test.25

Media Suasion
ON THE EVENING of March 21, 1924, W. E. B. Du Bois walked into a
dazzling artistic gathering at Manhattan’s Civic Club. Howard Uni-
versity philosopher Alaine LeRoy Locke was master of ceremonies.
Cultural advancement would “prove the key to that reevaluation of
the Negro which must precede or accompany any considerable fur-
ther betterment of race relationships,” Locke prophesied in the era’s
definitive anthology, The New Negro (1925). He proposed media suasion
by “our talented groups” to persuade away racist ideas. Twenty-year-
old New York University student and poet Countee Cullen, who was
also committed to media suasion, was one of more than a dozen Black
artists—most notably novelist Jessie Fauset—present to meet and
receive advice from the Talented Tenth and the White publishers in
attendance that evening. Cullen, who was dating Du Bois’s daughter,
Yolande, ended the Harlem Renaissance’s coming-out party in a flurry
of poems and ovations.1
Du Bois helped rouse the Harlem Renaissance artistic move-
ment and was even more instrumental in rousing the activism of New
Negro students. They protested against the remnants of the Tuske-
gee approach to schooling and against the efforts of all historically
Black colleges that had been set up to “train servants and docile cheap
labor,” as Du Bois said in a critique published in The American Mercury
in October 1924. Striking first at Florida A&M in 1923, and then Fisk
in 1924, Howard in 1925, and Hampton in 1927, and dozens of other
HBCUs in between, New Negro campus activists also protested the

324 tamped from the Beginning
rules of morality imposed by the colleges to regulate and civilize the
supposed barbaric, oversexed, undisciplined Black students (and keep
them out of harm’s way of Klansmen). On February 4, 1925, more
than one hundred Fisk strikers ignored curfew and stormed through
campus chanting “Du Bois! Du Bois!” and “Before I’ll be a slave, I’ll
be buried in my grave!” By the time the protest fever subsided at the
end of the decade, many of the rules had been expunged, and HBCU
curricula, aside from a handful of Negro Studies courses, were hardly
distinguishable from the curricula at historically White colleges and
universities (HWCUs). Accommodators and antiracists were upset,
but assimilationists were delighted.2

A CADRE OF Harlem’s young and talented Black artists refused to take

direction from W. E. B. Du Bois. They called themselves the “Nigge-
rati” in 1926, clearly showing little interest in assimilation or in media
suasion. The Niggerati included novelist Wallace Thurman, who was
best known for his fictional tribute to dark beauty, The Blacker the Berry
(1929), and Florida native Zora Neale Hurston, who would study with
Franz Boas, reject his assimilationism, and become the penultimate
antiracist mouthpiece of rural southern Black culture. These young-
sters were formulating a literary and social space of total artistic free-
dom and tolerance for differences in culture, color, class, gender, race,
and sexuality. The Niggerati was quite possibly the first known fully
antiracist intellectual and artistic group in American history. Its mem-
bers rejected class racism, cultural racism, historical racism, gender
racism, and even queer racism, as some members were homosexual
or bisexual. Not that they were bold enough to come out as such:
Alaine LeRoy Locke, Bessie Smith, and Ma Rainey were among the
many Harlem Renaissance headliners leading double lives in closeted
homophobic America, privately affirming negated Black sexualities as
they publicly affirmed Black negated artistry.3
In The Nation in June 1926, a twenty-four-year-old poetic sensa-
tion—another headliner who was quite possibly in the sexual closet—
laid out the Niggerati’s antiracist philosophy in “The Negro Artist and
edia uasion 325

the Racial Mountain.” The “urge within the race towards whiteness . . .
and to be as little Negro and as much American as possible” was the
“mountain standing in the way of any true Negro art,” wrote Langston
Hughes. Hughes was reacting to the words of another poet who had
told him “I want to be a poet—not a Negro poet,” probably referring
to Countee Cullen, Du Bois’s future son-in-law. Hughes went on to
describe the upbringing of the “young poet” in a typical Black middle-

income home, where the mother often told misbehaving children,
“Don’t be like niggers,” and the father married the “lightest woman he
could find” and told them, “Look how well a white man does things.”
In the home, they read White newspapers; they attended White
theaters and schools; and they favored churches for light-skinned
blacks. They aspired to “Nordic manners, Nordic faces, Nordic hair,
Nordic art,” said Hughes, as “the whisper of ‘I want to be white’ runs
silently through their minds.” This was “a very high mountain indeed
for the would-be racial artist to climb in order to discover himself.” It
stopped the Negro artist from seeing the “beauty of his own people,”
Hughes added.
In the lives of the “low-down folks,” who did not “particularly
care whether they are like white folks,” there was “sufficient matter
to furnish a black artist,” as his friend Zora Neale Hurston’s career
would show. The Negro artist did not have to touch “on the relations
between Negroes and whites.” The only duty Hughes dropped onto
the “younger Negro artist” was to “change through the force of his art
that old whispering ‘I want to be white,’ hidden in the aspirations of his
people, to ‘Why should I want to be white? I am a Negro—and beau-
tiful”—and “ugly too.”4
If Langston Hughes focused his antiracist creative energy on per-
suading Black people away from assimilationist ideas, and if Coun-
tee Cullen focused his assimilationist creative energy on persuading
White people away from segregationist ideas, then Du Bois remained
doubly focused on both. But in 1926, Du Bois’s attention veered much
more into persuading White people. And so Du Bois viewed Hughes’s
essay, and then his endorsement of Carl Van Vechten’s Nigger Heaven,
released in August 1926, as utterly traitorous.
326 tamped from the Beginning
Van Vechten was the Harlem Renaissance’s most ubiquitous
White patron, a man as curiously passionate about being around and
showing off Black people as zookeepers are about being around and
showing off their exotic pets. In the past few years, European artists
arriving in New York had been calling on Van Vechten to take them
on the “safari” of Harlem, as the tourists and tour guide more or less
understood it. Now, Van Vechten gave them the tour in a book, Nigger
Van Vechten’s novel is a melodramatically tragic love story of boy
meets girl, but with all that genre’s affection, seduction, obstruction,
betrayal, and death winding through the pitfalls of racial discrimina-
tion. It portrays the vivaciously lurid debauchery of the jazz clubs and
cabarets of Black commoners; the solemn pretentiousness of the finely
lit homes of educated, assimilated Black elites; and the politically cor-
rect intellectuals who debated “the race problem.” The bitter racial line
of negative Black reviews and positive White reviews could not have
been starker. Nigger Heaven—from its outrageous title to the outra-
geous extremes of Black decadence and pomposity it delineated—felt
like “a blow in the face” to W. E. B. Du Bois and the Talented Tenth. It
was nearly as powerful a blow as the one that had been delivered by
William Hannibal Thomas’s The American Negro in 1901. A Black profes-
sorial character in Nigger Heaven claims, in a dig at media suasion, that
the advance of Black artists in White circles will not change White
opinions: “Because the white people they meet will regard them as
geniuses, in other words, exceptions.”5
Nothing worse rained down from Nigger Heaven than Van Vechten’s
outrageously untrue indictment of assimilated Blacks as spoiled, along
the same line of thought that globe-trotting racists like to frame trop-
ical “exotic” lands as being spoiled by White developers. The virginal
and pure (and assimilated) gospel singer Mary Love, for example, had
“lost or forfeited her birthright, this primitive birthright  .  .  . that all
civilized races were struggling to get back to,” Van Vechten narrated in
Nigger Heaven. She mourned that loss and yearned to rediscover it: “This
love of drums, of exciting rhythms . . . this warm, sexual emotion. . . .
We are all savages, she repeated to herself, all, apparently, but me!”6
edia uasion 327

In reducing Negro artists’ gifts to their racial nature, Van Vechten
was implying that there was no intellectual ingenuity, or constant
rehearsing, or endless refinement of the ear, needed to master the
sophisticated grandeur of music and dance performance in blues and
jazz. Blacks were natural singers and dancers and musicians (and all
those Black people who could not sing, dance, and play were appar-
ently not really Black). It was an idea later reinforced by John Martin,
who became America’s first major dance critic when he joined the New
York Times in 1927. He reasoned that for Blacks, the ability to dance was
“intrinsic” and “innate.” They had natural “racial rhythm,” and strug-
gled to learn the more technical dance styles, such as ballet. What Van
Vechten and Martin posed as assimilated Blacks’ tragic dilemma was
stingingly racist: they could never quite reach the greatness of White
civilization, but they were running away from the greatness of their
natural savagery.7
Van Vechten made Harlem seem so exciting and exotic that White
readers made Nigger Heaven a runaway best seller. Whites started pour-
ing into Harlem—into Black America—to see, hear, and touch the
supposed primitive superior birthright of Black artistry and sexuality.
They flooded into clubs like Harlem’s “Jungle,” or went over to watch
an exhibition of the newly established Harlem Globetrotters. In 1927,
these Black showmen started running up and down the basketball
court in a “natural rhythm,” emitting jungle sounds and wild bursts
of laughter like frivolous, dishonest, lazy children in need of “mature
white handling.” They found that handler in the club’s founder, Abe
In Nigger Heaven and in the blues art form in general, Black com-
moners were sometimes portrayed before White Americans as sexual,
uneducated, lazy, crude, immoral, and criminal. This image brought
on more debates about uplift and media suasion. Many Black elites
agonized every time they saw “negative” Black portrayals in the media,
convinced that these portrayals were reinforcing stereotypes and con-
stituted the lifeblood of racist ideas. They religiously believed that
if only Whites saw more “positive” Black portrayals, ones that were
chaste, educated, refined, moral, and law-abiding, then racist ideas
328 tamped from the Beginning
would wither away and die. And although Black elites did not want
Whites to view the negative media portrayals of Black commoners as
representative of Black elites like them, they themselves often viewed
such portrayals as representative of Black commoners.9
Black commoners and their elite antiracist defenders, in contrast,
saw the diverse truth of Black people in the portrayals and in their
artistry. They cared little about the impact on racist ideas and enjoyed
Nigger Heaven and the blues. And they should not have cared. The
Americans who were generalizing the “negative” behavior of the indi-
vidual Black characters in Nigger Heaven or the blues were showing that
they had already consumed racist ideas. The Talented Tenth’s attempt
at media suasion was a lost cause from the start. While “negative” por-
trayals of Black people often reinforced racist ideas, “positive” portray-
als did not necessarily weaken racist ideas. The “positive” portrayals
could be dismissed as extraordinary Negroes, and the “negative” por-
trayals could be generalized as typical. Even if these racial reformers
managed to one day replace all “negative” portrayals with “positive”
portrayals in the mainstream media, then, like addicts, racists would
then turn to other suppliers. Before Nigger Heaven and the blues, rac-
ists found their supply of reinforcing drugs in the minstrel shows, in
science, in generalizing any negativities they saw in their interactions
with any Black person.
The cross-class, cross-generational, cross-ideological portrayals
debate was on in the 1920s, and it was centered in the portrayals of
blues and then jazz, in Nigger Heaven, and then in Claude McKay’s Home
to Harlem in 1928. Home to Harlem, the first Black-authored best seller,
made Du Bois feel “distinctly like taking a bath.” Raging, Du Bois
released his own Dark Princess: A Romance that year, portraying strong,
intelligent women and sensitive, intelligent men, as he always did in his
fiction, seemingly unaware that he, too, was reinforcing racist ideas.10
Du Bois was reinforcing assimilationist ideas, and in the 1920s
these ideas were advancing on American northern minds—par